MORE than 200 volunteers in Northumberland have been trained to help reduce the isolation of deafblindness.
Free courses have taken place across the county over the past 12 months through the In Good Hands project.
And there could be more support to come as the initiative has been shortlisted to win a further £1million in funding.
The programme was set up by community interest company Scene Enterprises to improve communication for people with deafblindness.
It was chosen from 17,000 applications as one of 37 projects nationwide to receive funding from the Big Lottery Silver Dreams scheme, run in association with the Daily Mail to support projects for the over 50s, and picked up just short of £200,000.
Training sessions were organised to raise awareness of deafblindness and the problems it causes, and to teach ways of supporting sufferers.
Participants learnt the block alphabet in which they shape letters on the palm of somebody’s hand, finger spelling using different parts of the fingers to represent letters, guiding techniques and lip speaking.
The sessions were for members of the public, but also offered training to council workers and staff at Northumberland County Blind Association, which hosted some of the events at its Morpeth headquarters.
Now more than 200 people have achieved the Level 2 Acquired Deafblind Support Worker Certificate, accredited through the Open College Network, and 60 of them attended a ceremony at Morpeth Town Hall last week to collect it.
Project Co-ordinator Elaine Finlay said: “Deafblindness is something that is increasing more and more with the ageing population. More people are starting to lose partial or all of their sight and at the same time a proportion or all of their hearing. Both fade in a similar way so it is a double whammy.
“When people are older they aren’t likely to want to learn Braille or sign-language and if you have lost both your sight and hearing it is even more difficult. It is a very cruel condition because if you can’t see and can’t hear you lose capacity to go out and about, and all the things you would want to do as you get older, like joining clubs and meeting up with friends and family, is more difficult.
“The training course was to learn about the condition and to give tips and tricks to help someone to communicate.
“There are friends and neighbours who help people, but it is not formal help, it is people muddling through, like we all do. The training makes a difference because it is an opportunity for people to understand deafblindness and re-establish communication.”
The initiative has now been shortlisted among 12 Silver Dreams schemes to become a flagship project, backed by £1million in funding. If it is approved it will continue its training work, as well as try to establish how many people are affected by deafblindness and to ensure they have the support they need.
For further information contact Ms Finlay on 07580 141786 or email email@example.com