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The value of a good friend

Posted: 28th July 2014 by Lin Ball

The value of a good friend Picture

A good friend is a good listener. And feedback from the Torch Journeying With initiative suggests that people losing their sight find a trained volunteer befriender is – quite literally – a Godsend.

The befriending service has initially been made available in Northern Ireland. Following training, which includes learning about sight loss and its impact, a befriender gets alongside someone newly diagnosed for up to six months. He or she helps as someone deals with the emotional, social and physical impact of sight loss on their everyday life, supporting them as they make adjustments. As well as being a listening ear at home, they may accompany them to eye clinic appointments, help them venture into new social settings, suggest ways in which gadgets and technology can assist with everyday activities and generally encourage them to see that life can still be good.

Clients who have been befriended through the project have given very positive feedback about the whole experience. They particularly valued having someone to confide in about their concerns.

One said, ‘My befriender was a good listener. That’s what you need, because you don’t like … other people … thinking you are moaning and groaning. I can’t see people’s faces, for example. You’re walking past them and you can’t see them properly. People wave out of their cars and you don’t know who they are.’

And other comments suggested that having the befriender helped them cope with the loneliness they were experiencing.

‘Her … just coming to the door … that means a lot because I don’t have many people coming … I’m so lonely, very lonely. I have other friends, yes. But they are in different parts of the town and they have their own families. I don’t have anybody … Life is so quiet,’ said one person, who felt that sight loss had put an end to many of the activities of her life.

Positive responses were also given about how befrienders were a help on their faith journey.

‘It helps to be able to talk about your faith. It comes back to you when you are talking about it.’

‘Blindness is the disability the majority of people say they most fear,’ says Debra Chand, who heads up the Torch Trust Journeying With project. ‘But every day in the UK, 100 people learn that they are losing their sight. As our population ages, the numbers will increase. Almost one in four of us will know what it is to live with a disabling level of sight loss.’

The trauma of a sight loss diagnosis has been compared to a bereavement in terms of its impact.

‘Despite this, only one in five people has someone with them at diagnosis,’ says Debra.

‘People often find themselves with no way to adapt their normal routines. Acute loneliness and clinical depression are not uncommon. Our new church-based befriending scheme brings Christian volunteers alongside those adjusting to the challenging news of sight loss.’

Torch is looking for welcoming churches across the UK willing to run the initiative in their areas. To find out more about the Journeying With project click here or email Torch’s Client Services or call 01858 438260.

First guests love our new-look holiday centre!

Posted: 3rd July 2014 by Lin Ball

First guests love our new-look holiday centre! Picture

The first holiday guests with sight loss have been bowled over by the renovations at Torch Holiday & Retreat Centre.

‘I love the lounge with the new bright blue carpet…’

‘I like the fact that there are dado rails everywhere to follow, everything is tactile so you don’t get lost…’

‘The bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms are lovely, very easy to get into, especially for wheelchair users…’

‘The new mattresses are amazing…’

‘You get an even warmer welcome than before…’

Gaill Millar, Holidays Leader, says, ‘Our first holiday in the renovated centre – our annual 10-day activities holiday – has been very exciting. I have so many stories to tell of this first phase of renovation work – and I believe I will be telling them for years to come! Every chapter of this story abounds with miracles and answers to prayer.’

With a great deal of hard work by the contractors, the Torch staff and volunteers, this first phase of the work was complete in time for the holiday to begin for the 24 guests.

‘God gave us a Bible verse back in October 2013 as we stood and prayed this project into being,’ said Gail. ‘It was Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain (Psalm 127:1). God has provided the finance, has blessed all those who have done the work and will bless those who come here in the days and years ahead. It all looks amazing, from the new carpets and curtains to the built-in wardrobes and the specially embroidered pillows on every bed.’

So the full summer programme of all-inclusive holidays for guests with sight loss is under way. Do contact us if you’d like details. With the increased accommodation now at the Centre, there are still a few vacancies.

Calling the north east!

Posted: 17th June 2014 by Lin Ball

Calling the north east! Picture

If you live within reach of Hull and want to make a difference for the blind and partially sighted people in your community, the insights and information you need are coming your way soon!

Faith-based organisations, community groups and churches are invited to send teams along to Discover Torch – a free morning conference and workshop being held on Saturday 5 July.

James Seager, newly appointed to grow Torch impact in the north of England, says, ‘In Hull and the East Riding, 12,000 people are living with sight loss – and every two days another person is diagnosed as visually impaired. Most of these people are disengaged from church life. This event will help you discover more about their needs and what we can do to involve them in our church communities.’

James was previously a local church minister for 15 years. ‘During that time,’ he says, ‘I developed a great desire to see people cared for, especially at the lowest points of their lives. The Church is in a powerful position to offer support to people, as we have something to give that is unique – hope in Jesus.’

The conference runs from 10am to 12noon at New Life Church, Bridlington Avenue, Hull, HU2 0DU. Though brief, the event will present an overview of the local needs, give information on sight loss and introduce Torch Trust’s new outreach and befriending project, Journeying With. There will also be an opportunity to talk to a Christian with sight loss and take part in a practical workshop.

To know more, contact James direct ( / 07446 898149).

Free resource pack to support your Disability Sunday

Posted: 4th June 2014 by Lin Ball

Free resource pack to support your Disability Sunday Picture

Does your church mark Disability Sunday? If not, why not ask the leadership to consider it? And there’s a free resource pack to help you make it a very special day.

This year Disability Sunday is Sunday 6 July – though if that date doesn’t work for your church calendar, any other Sunday could be chosen.

The purpose of Disability Sunday is for churches to focus on disability and think about how welcoming they are to the disabled people in their communities. How can your church enable disabled people to come along, join in and be part of all that’s going on?

Churches for All – the network of Christian disability organisations of which Torch Trust is part – is offering a free resource pack for Disability Sunday. It will take you step by step through the planning and offers plenty of ideas for the content of the day. There are two sermon outlines, ideas for drama, quizzes, children’s activities, tips for involving disabled people in the event, and links to videos you might add into the programme. There are even templates for invitations and publicity. This year’s pack has been prepared by the Christian disability organisation Through the Roof.

Click here to access the free Disability Sunday pack: Resource pack . If you would like braille or large print versions, contact Torch Trust: email

Discover Torch conference

And, talking of learning about disability, if you live in Hull or the East Riding you are warmly invited to a ‘Discover Torch’ morning conference and workshop. This takes place on Saturday 5 July from 10am to 12 noon at New Life Church in Bridlington Avenue, Hull. To find out more and register, you can contact James Seager ( / 07446 898149).

Tune in to hear Mike's story of loss, searching and discovery

Posted: 23rd May 2014 by Lin Ball

Tune in to hear Mike

Mike Townsend lost his sight as a boy – but a key encounter at blind school totally changed his direction, leading him into a busy and fulfilled life.

An experimental eye operation at the age of eight caused Mike to become totally blind – but his view of what happened then is characteristically positive.

‘Losing your sight at eight is probably a good time – if you’ve got to lose it! I was young enough to learn the skills I needed such as braille and getting around. As a lad I was full of life and wanted to get on with things and I don’t believe it slowed me down much, except I had to leave home and go away to school.’

Mike’s early experiences of blind school were tough. He describes it as ‘horrible, a dreadful place’. All children complain about school food, but Mike feels his complaints were justified. When a 10-year-old at the school died of malnutrition he felt determined to get away. He did well academically and passed an exam for Worcester College for the Blind – now New College. Life there was so much better that Mike says, ‘I thought I’d gone to heaven!’

Deeper issues

For a while, Mike’s main aim in life was to earn lots of money, so he planned to go to the London School of Economics – which he succeeded in attending. However, he was also thinking about the deeper issues of life.

‘I was searching for spiritual understanding for life,’ says Mike.

‘A boy at school had told me about Jesus and how he knew him as a personal friend. I thought, how can you know someone who lived two thousand years ago as a real friend?’ But, examining his friend’s life, he could see that knowing God made a difference – and Mike wanted to know more. Picking up a braille book his friend left lying around – Peace with God by Billy Graham – Mike learned that the barrier to him knowing God himself was the barrier of sin or wrongdoing.

‘I have a very clear, powerful memory of the time that barrier was removed,’ says Mike.

‘I prayed to God and felt the wonderful, powerful presence of God in the room and in my life. It really was a turning point, a total change of direction.’

New ambitions

This change of direction took Mike’s ambitions away from money and materialism. Although he did a degree at LSE, and went on to a lucrative career in computer work initially, he abandoned that for working with a number of Christian and charitable organisations. He’s been involved over many years with Torch Trust, RNIB and Guide Dogs, he’s also the longest-serving deacon at his home church, Fleckney Baptist Church in the Midlands and he is now chair of the disability organisation Through the Roof.

Computers remain a fascination to Mike. ‘I was one of the first blind people to be involved in computer programming, and technology has been quite a key part of my life,’ he says.

‘I love access technology … making computers think, making computers do braille and making computers speak. I’m one of these people who loves gadgets! A real gadget freak.’

Tune in to Reflections

You can hear Mike’s story in more detail, and find how why his guide dog Tom is a bit of a celebrity by tuning into Reflections, Torch’s weekly radio programme, on Sunday June 15th, when Mike is interviewed by Sheila Armstrong. Sheila, also blind, is Torch’s Customer Services Leader.

Reflections can be heard on RNIB Insight Radio – online, on FM 101 (Glasgow), on Sky 0188, freesat 777 and Freeview 730 – on Sundays just after the 9am news, with repeats on Tuesdays at 2am and Fridays at 1am. It’s also broadcast on Premier Christian Radio – online, on MW 1305, 1332, 1413, on DAB and on Freeview 725 – on Sundays at 4pm.

On parade in Motherwell

Posted: 13th May 2014 by Lin Ball

On parade in Motherwell Picture


‘In your Easter bonnet with all the frills upon it’… So went the lyrics of the Irving Berlin song. Every year on Easter Sunday, New Yorkers walk down Fifth Avenue in an explosion of colour, in a tradition stretching back to the 1800s. Not to be outdone, members of the Motherwell Torch Fellowship Group held their own Easter Bonnet parade – and very creative they were! First prize went to Cathy Young (seated, second from right) whose hat featured miniature models of many of the traditional symbols of the Easter story such as a piece of unleavened bread and a goblet of wine, with the banner ‘He is risen’ above them. Second prize for her predominantly pink creation went to Ellen Simpson (far right). And third, sporting bunnie ears, was John Wallace.


Exciting progress on renovating holiday centre

Posted: 30th April 2014 by Lin Ball

Exciting progress on renovating holiday centre Picture

Work is forging ahead on phase one of the extension and renovation project at Torch’s Holiday & Retreat Centre in West Sussex. The Centre, which is the base for specialist holidays with a Christian ethos for people with sight loss, is a hive of activity at present, as initial demolition has given way to construction.

Reports Gail Millar, Holidays Leader, ‘It’s been busy, exciting – and very noisy! As well as the conversion of existing rooms to give them ensuite facilities, a welcoming reception area and office have been created at the front of the building. A lift has been installed to enable upstairs rooms to be easily accessible to guests who find stairs difficult. It’s so good to see things taking shape! This week four bedrooms above the lounge have been plastered, wired and made ready for sanitaryware to be fitted.'

The lovely venue set in on the edge of the South Downs National Park and close to some beautiful coastline, is being upgraded in line with Torch’s plans to take more guests on its holidays and Moving Forward short breaks - breaks which are designed to help people recently diagnosed with sight loss.

‘We thank God every day for his provision for the project – which will tell the story of his goodness for many years to come,’ says Gail. ‘And we ask for prayer for safety on site, for opportunities to share the message of Jesus with the builders, electricians and plumbers. And also for God’s provision for the next phase of the project – building three more ensuite bedrooms.’

It’s expected that a full programme of specialist holidays and retreats will resume at the Centre from late June onwards. 

Can the Church lead the way to a more caring society?

Posted: 24th April 2014 by Lin Ball

Can the Church lead the way to a more caring society? Picture

‘Our society often pushes people with disabilities to the margins – but not Jesus! Two thousand years ago Jesus welcomed everyone – and he still does!’ says Revd Jonathan Edwards (pictured right). The former General Secretary of the Baptist Union, now the Executive Ambassador for Prospects, the Christian organisation working with people with learning disabilities, is a keynote speaker at a major conference in June on how the Church engages with disabled people.

‘We all confidently sing about the Gospel of Jesus – but we don’t always live it,’ says Jonathan. ‘The Enabling Church conference gives us the opportunity to reflect deeply on how we can become a more truly Gospel Church where everyone is welcome.'

The Enabling Church: Everybody In!conference will look at the challenges faced by the UK Church in welcoming and including people with all kinds of disabilities – including sight loss, dementia, hearing loss, autism and loss of mobility; and it will also discuss how the Church supports carers. Roy McCloughry, newly appointed Disability Advisor to the Church of England, is among an impressive line-up of Christians with relevant experience in different fields of disability.

‘People with disabilities are just like everyone else in that they want to be loved, understood and included,’ says Jonathan. ‘Everyone with a disability is unique and it is vital that churches value them and imaginatively include them in their life.’

‘Eleven million people in the UK have a limiting long-term illness, impairment or disability – that’s one in six of us, and that number will continue to rise,’ says conference organiser Dr Gordon Temple. Dr Temple is the executive officer of Churches for All, a network of 14 Christian organisations working alongside disabled people, as well as being CEO of Torch Trust.

‘It’s a very live issue for the Church to consider and to prepare for,’ adds Dr Temple. ‘We need to become a more caring society – and the Church can lead the way.’

Enabling Church: Everybody in!takes place onJune 3rd at Bethel Convention Centre in West Bromwich, just off the M5 and near central Birmingham. For more information about the programme and the line-up of speakers, go to . ‘Early bird’ tickets (£13.50) can be booked now.


Tune in to worship a living Saviour!

Posted: 15th April 2014 by Lin Ball

Tune in to worship a living Saviour! Picture

‘We don’t worship a dead man – but a living Saviour!’ says Marilyn Baker, blind presenter of the hour-long Reflections radio programme going out this Sunday, Easter Day! The Easter special is packed with interviews, readings and music. Included are thoughts from a woman who works with blind people in Afghanistan and describes a special sunrise over the city of Kabul; a blind woman who recalls a trip to Jerusalem and the emotion of visiting the Garden Tomb; and a blind Nigerian man who found true healing at the cross of Christ. There’s also a dramatised reading based on the Bible account of the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Fans of Reflections will be pleased to know that this month, thanks to RNIB’s latest bold investment, Torch’s radio reach is greatly expanded with a new Freeview launch of the programme, along with adopting Torch’s audio ‘thought for the week’.

Reflections is broadcast on RNIB’s Insight Radio weekly on Sundays with two latenight repeats. Now new Freeview access means a major extension to its reach. As well as being available on FM, Sky, freesat and online, the programme is on Freeview Channel 730.

‘Over 20 million people in the UK have access to Freeview and RNIB see this as the easiest way for people with sight loss to tune in, rather than through the internet,’ says Rachel Dalby, who produces Torch’s flagship weekly radio programme.

‘RNIB are also encouraging us to grow Reflections from its current 15 minutes and – as resources are provided – it’s our prayer that we will be able to use this amazing invitation to reach many more people with sight loss with programmes we hope will be life-enriching,’ adds Rachel.

As well as reaching a largely disabled audience with Christian content through Insight Radio, Reflections also brings the message about disability to a largely Christian audience through Premier Christian Radio, where it is broadcast at 4pm on Sundays.

In addition, Torch’s audio ‘thought for the week’, which last just three or four minutes, is now being aired every Monday morning at 7am on RNIB’s Insight Radio. Journey is available anywhere in the world as a download from the Torch website, but previously its use has been limited mainly to talking newspapers and blind clubs.

‘This programme, known as Journey, is scripted largely by people with sight loss,’ explains producer Lin Ball. It reflects on real life experiences, introducing the Christian faith with a light touch, helping people to consider some of life’s big questions.’

Our picture shows John, Andrew, Bridget and Rachel recording Journey in the studios at Torch House.

Reflections: On RNIB Insight Radio – online, on FM 101 (Glasgow), on Sky 0188, freesat 777 and Freeview 730. Sundays just after the 9am news, with repeats on Tuesdays at 2am and Fridays at 1am. On Premier Christian Radio – online, on MW 1305, 1332, 1413, on DAB and on Freeview 725. Sundays at 4pm.


A Torch flame burning in the cathedral!

Posted: 1st April 2014 by Lin Ball

A Torch flame burning in the cathedral! Picture

Our picture shows Torch Regional Outreach Leader David Palmer arriving at Lichfield Cathedral with a very large package on a trolley. The big black box contains all the flatpack components to build what we call a Torch ‘pod’! For the uninitiated, this is a circular display stand some six or seven feet high topped with a moving gauze ‘flame’. Visually it represents a torch, but in practical terms it serves as a unit which is used to demonstrate three aspects of Torch work and these can be changed to suit the needs of different events. This particular Torch pod is standing in Lichfield Cathedral throughout Lent, with the hope that many people passing through will pause to learn something of Torch’s work with blind and partially sighted people. If you live in the area, we hope you might drop in.

Lichfield is a very appropriate site for one of our Torch pods, since the diocese is one of the sponsors of a significant national conference Torch is organising to take place in June – and we’re anticipating that many local churches will send representatives along to the event.

The local church is key to the theme of this day conference, which is called Enabling Church: Everybody In! The programme will look at how the local church can be equipped to welcome and involve the growing numbers of disabled people – including people with sight loss – in the UK.

‘There are over 11 million people in Great Britain with a limiting long-term illness, impairment or disability,’ says conference organiser Dr Gordon Temple, CEO of Torch Trust and Executive Officer for Churches for All – an alliance of 14 Christian organisations working alongside disabled people.

‘That’s one in six of the population – and growing,’ Dr Temple adds. ‘And the Church needs to apply itself to enabling disabled people to participate and share their God-given gifts. The conference seeks to be unashamedly transformational as we bring these issues into the light. We hope that many churches will send representatives to listen and learn.’

Enabling Church: Everybody In! takes place on Tuesday 3 June in the Birmingham area, and will be backed by leading Christian organisations such as Care for the Family, Prospects, Livability and Premier Christian Radio. There are specialist plenary speakers taking part including Roy McCloughry, the Church of England’s National Disability Advisor, and Jonathan Edwards, the former General Secretary of the Baptist Union who’s now an ambassador for people with learning disabilities. See for more details and to take advantage of the special Early Bird price of only £13.50. 


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