Posted: 24th April 2014 by Lin Ball
‘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 www.churchesforall.org.uk/EnablingChurch . ‘Early bird’ tickets (£13.50) can be booked now.
Posted: 15th April 2014 by Lin Ball
‘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.
Posted: 1st April 2014 by Lin Ball
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 www.churchesforall.org.uk/EnablingChurch for more details and to take advantage of the special Early Bird price of only £13.50.
Posted: 11th March 2014 by Lin Ball
You can’t read the Bible without getting the message that Jesus was interested in all kinds of people and always had time for people who were sick or disabled. So why don’t we see more people with disabilities in our churches? Could it be that the Church itself is ‘disabled’ because there’s no provision for people with disabilities to take part in its activities on equal terms, using their God-given gifting? There are over eleven million people with a limiting long term illness, impairment or disability in Great Britain. That’s one in six of the population – and growing. So how can the Church respond?
Two major Churches for All events coming up on the calendar – and in which Torch Trust will play a key role – will encourage churches to be more welcoming and inclusive of people with all kinds of disabilities.
At the annual Christian Resources Exhibition (CRE) at Esher in Surrey (13-16 May), Torch Trust will have a stand in the Churches for All Zone. Each day a series of workshops will take place in the Zone: from parachute games to a British Sign Language taster. Visitors can drop in for a coffee and a chat. The programme will also include opportunities to listen to live chat shows with the Reflections radio team from Torch Trust and its host, Marilyn Baker. And on the Torch stand there’ll be an opportunity to have a demonstration of how Worship for All – the free web-based system for producing service material in large print and braille for people with sight loss – can be used in a local church. Also available in the Zone will be a free resources pack for churches to use for Disability Sunday 2014, happening this year on 6July. For more about CRE go to: www.creonline.co.uk . Or email Torch using firstname.lastname@example.org to be sent a free ticket for CRE when they become available next month.
The second major event for which Torch Trust is preparing is the Churches for All day conference Enabling Church: Everybody In! which takes place on 3 June in the Birmingham area. There are many 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. The programme will feature dedicated streams on disability, deafness, dementia and families and carers. See www.churchesforall.org.uk/EnablingChurch for more details and to take advantage of the special Early Bird price of only £13.50.
Posted: 26th February 2014 by Lin Ball
From everyday activities like cooking, going for walks and enjoying books through to more unusual ones like riding a horse or sailing – anything’s possible for blind and partially sighted people who go on a Torch Holiday!
‘One of the greatest challenges in my work is to find a way that someone with sight loss can experience the same things that sighted people do – and I love it!’ explains Torch Holidays Leader Gail Millar.
‘People often arrive at our holiday centre lonely, isolated, broken or weary. And most of our guests come on their own. Here they meet others, make friends and experience love in a way they’ve never experienced it before. They’re given support and encouragement to do new things. The team just love helping them tackle new challenges.’
And the occupancy of the Torch Holiday & Retreat Centre in West Sussex is being doubled as part of an expansion project now under way.
‘I’m very excited that we’re going to be able to accommodate more people than ever on our fantastic range of holidays, especially since blind and partially sighted people often struggle to find something appropriate for their holiday needs,’ says Gail.
By June when the holiday programme gets under way in earnest, as well as new ensuite facilities, there will be a new office, a new lift, and the whole place will have been given a lick of paint.
‘One of the most important things about the holiday centre is that our guests really do see it as a home from home,’ says Gail. ‘And that won’t be lost. There are many features which subtly make it a place where people with sight loss are welcome and can really feel comfortable. For example, we use high contrast colours with the decoration, everything is level access, and there’s plenty of reading material around in braille, large print and audio.’
Describing the improvements at the centre as ‘costly but good value for money’, Gail said, ‘God has miraculously provided for phase 1 of this project, prompting people to give sacrificially to make it happen. It’s very humbling.’
This year’s Easter house party will still go ahead – but based in Oxfordshire. By June, in Gail’s words, it will be ‘all systems go, with back to back holidays right through to Christmas!’
‘Throughout the summer months we’ll be making the most of the better weather and the beautiful situation of the holiday centre near the south coast, plus the fact that from our garden we can step straight onto national parkland, walking on the South Downs,’ she says.
For information on the full range of Torch Holidays click here or go to the Facebook page or phone 01273 832282.
You can also tune into Reflections, the radio programme on faith and disability produced weekly by Torch, on 16 March, which features an interview with Gail about Torch Holidays. Reflections is broadcast on RNIB Insight Radio – online, on FM 101 (Glasgow), on Sky 0188 and freesat 777 every Sunday just after the 9am news, with repeats on Tuesdays at 2am and Fridays at 1am. And it can also be heard on Premier Christian Radio – online, on MW 1305, 1332, 1413, on DAB and on Freeview 725 on Sundays at 4pm. All the programmes can also be heard on the Torch website a few days after first broadcast: go here and scroll down to the bottom of the page.
Posted: 18th February 2014 by Lin Ball
A new production of the musical comedy The Threepenny Opera starts a tour of the UK this week. And one star of the disabled cast is blind singer Victoria Oruwari, who plays one of the main roles, Mrs Peachum.
Victoria only heard about the audition three days before it was scheduled. She said her first response was to pray to God for strength to learn the songs, which included the famous Louis Armstrong standard ‘Mac the Knife’, in the short time she had.
‘I was nervous, but it was an excited sort of nerves rather than being too scared to do it,’ said Victoria, interviewed for Torch Trust’s weekly radio programme, Reflections.
But, having prayed about the audition, Victoria said, ‘I didn’t feel like I was alone. I have grown spiritually considerably since the last time I had an operatic audition.’
She makes her acting debut opposite her stage husband Garry Robson, who is a wheelchair user. And her director, Jenny Sealey, is Deaf.
The Threepenny Opera, a musical first performed in Germany in 1928, has been translated into many languages and performed around the world. But it’s possibly a first to have it put on by a cast of disabled actors.
Victoria said that learning to talk in Mrs Peachum’s accent had been one of her biggest challenges. Memorising all the lines is demanding too, she added, but not as difficult as delivering the lines in a way which shows Mrs Peachum’s reactions to the other actors on stage.
Being away from home to tour with the group, Graeae Theatre, will also be a new experience for Victoria. But all the actors will have personal assistants working with them, so she said, ‘I’m looking forward to living and working with the cast and getting to know them.’
The Threepenny Opera opens at Nottingham Playhouse on 21 February, where it runs until 8 March. Then it’s at the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich from 12-22 March, the Birmingham Repertory Theatre from 27 March–April 12, and finally at the West Yorkshire Playhouse from 24 April to 10 May. All performances include audio description and a creative combination of BSL interpretation and captioning.
And if you want to listen to the Reflections programme featuring the interview with Victoria, click here and scroll down to the bottom of the page to select the 9 February broadcast.
Posted: 7th February 2014 by Lin Ball
‘A journey towards the cross, a journey of enlightenment: from wilderness to feast, from desert to oasis’ – this is how Lent is described in a poem by Kate Mcllhagga. And her poem will be just one source of inspiration being used in a special TorchTalk telephone friendship group being run in the six weeks leading up to Easter.
Ashes and Glory is the title of this seasonal TorchTalk group being facilitated by Sarah Brookman, starting on 3 March.
‘We’ll be helping one another journey together through the season of Lent as we prepare for Easter,’ says Sarah.
‘Using Scripture, poems and prayers, we’ll reflect on the events leading up to Jesus’ death on the cross. We’ll be taking time to get to know one another and listen to one another’s experience of faith, with its times of both wilderness and feasting. We’ll explore the nature of the promised Kingdom of God on earth, how we recognise it in our everyday life, how we can pray for it and share together in it.’
A number of TorchTalk groups are up and running and doing well. Ashes and Glory will be a six-week group, just running through Lent.
David Palmer, Torch’s Regional Outreach Leader, who has been helping the TorchTalk groups get off the ground, explains, ‘Most of us enjoy meeting and talking to people, but there are many people with sight loss who don’t have that opportunity. Many live alone. Some have additional disabilities or impaired mobility which makes it difficult to get out and about. Those who have started to participate in TorchTalk really look forward to it.’
Currently there are five regular groups running, with others are in the pipeline. Some of those will be special interest phone groups based on books, Bible study and even shared holiday experiences.
If you’d like to know more about the different TorchTalk groups available or possible, call 01858 438260 or email email@example.com .
Posted: 28th January 2014 by Lin Ball
The very morning that staff were taking part in a half day of prayer for Torch finances, two visitors arrived on the doorstep with a cheque!
‘What a timely encouragement from God!’ said Torch’s Chief Operating Officer Andrew Nicholson.
Andrew is pictured here with the bearers of the gift. Jane Emerton (left), who’s partially sighted, and her friend Marion Welch, brought the results of fundraising by the Trefoil Guild of Northampton. The Trefoil Guild is linked to the Girl Guide movement and is described as ‘guiding for adults’. Jane and Marion also brought several bags of beautifully knitted blankets, jumpers and hats made by Trefoil members for needy people in Malawi who receive aid from Torch.
‘Staff were spending extra time in prayer that morning,’ explained Andrew. ‘In times of need, our policy is always to go first to God. At this opening quarter of 2014, we find ourselves in a challenging time.’
While a drop in legacy income is part of a challenging picture, staff are thanking God for the provision of specific gifts for some vital projects which get under way in 2014.
‘Amazingly, in answer to prayer and as a result of the generosity of individuals and some trusts, we are able to give the go ahead for the first phase of the ambitious renovation plans for our Holiday & Retreat Centre in Sussex,’ said Andrew. ‘The work being done will equip us to support more people at the start of their sight loss journey as they attend our residential break Moving Forward breaks and other specialist retreats and holidays which give them practical and spiritual encouragement.’
Posted: 7th January 2014 by Lin Ball
During a wild and windy January, why not plan a break for milder days? Fun and fellowship, sightseeing and spiritual input are all on the programme for a short break at Sneaton Castle, Whitby, on the east coast of Yorkshire. Blind and partially sighted people will be coming together from a number of Torch Fellowship Groups (TFGs) in the area, from 28-30 April. The speaker will be Dr Mike Townsend, a Torch trustee.
‘Other friends are welcome to join us,’ says organiser David Judson of Leeds, Regional Co-ordinator for Yorkshire TFGs.
‘Information has gone out to TFGs in Hornsea, Bridlington, Scarborough, Washington, Middlesbrough and Hartlepool. We are hoping at least 30 will come,’ says David.
David can be contacted by phone (0113 2166411) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Talking of holidays, the 2014 programme of specialist Torch Holidays for people with sight loss gets under way soon. This includes several Moving Forward breaks, specially for people newly diagnosed with sight loss. For more details of the full Torch Holidays programme, click here or phone 01273 832282.
Posted: 18th December 2013 by Lin Ball
Torch leader Debra Chand will be speaking on the onset of disability at the Christian Resources Exhibition in Peterborough this month (January). Debra, who heads up the area of Torch work called ‘Presence’ – the face-to-face initiatives for getting alongside people at the start of their sight loss journey – is concerned that many people don’t realise how devastating such a diagnosis can be. She describes it as ‘something close to the shock of bereavement’.
‘In fact, the onset of any disability can bring changes and losses that feel like a series of bereavements,’ says Debra. ‘It brings with it increased risk of depression and social isolation.’
In her session at CRE, Debra will explore these challenges, drawing on the experience of supporting people through the onset of sight loss, and highlighting the valuable role of the local church in ‘being there’ for people at this tough time of change.
CRE in Peterborough takes place on Wednesday 29 January and Thursday 30 January. Debra’s 45-minute seminar, one of 40 on the programme, will be held on Thursday at 1.30pm. The exhibition brings together about 150 exhibitors from many areas of the Christian world. There will be an extensive range of books, music and other resources to buy, and expert advice on the latest multimedia equipment.