Lottery funding to help older people with age-related deaflindness in North East

Big_Lottery_Fund_logoA project that supports older people living with deafblindness via a buddy system of volunteers and social workers in the North East is one of only ten projects to receive a share of over £10m from the Big Lottery Fund’s Silver Dreams Fund today.

The ‘In Good Hands’ Deafblind Support Project run by Scene Enterprises CIC (Scene) and based in Durham receives £997,000 will use the money to continue to help end the isolation of older people with age-related deafblindness.


Age-related deafblindness is becoming increasingly common as we live longer and is a particularly cruel condition that can rob older people of their independence, affect their ability to communicate, cause isolation and have a negative effect on their mental health and wellbeing.

The In Good Hands (IGH) project is aimed at two groups of people across the whole of the North East – older people who are or who are becoming deafblind and people in the community who are interested in volunteering to support (buddy) older deafblind people.

The IGH aim for the older deafblind participants is to provide them with support to live as healthily and as happily as possible while for the IGH volunteers it is to provide them with new opportunities to fulfill their own altruism by being caring and helping someone.

Following a pilot in Northumberland the project has resulted in the issue of deafblindness (DB) among the older population being much more widely understood in the region and the prevalence of deafblindness with acquired communications disorders (ACD) being recognised.

It has received hundreds of enquiries and requests for deafblind training from individuals and organisations working with older people across the North East and local organisations have joined the project as new partners. Northumbrian Water (NW), the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation (CISWO) and NE Care Alliances have all joined.

The Silver Dreams Fund was the first of the Big Lottery Fund’s dedicated investments in older people in England, and is run in association with the Daily Mail. In Good Hands received £193,000 for its original pilot project.

The fund was launched in 2011, to help older people get more involved in their communities and to help local communities to recognise the contribution older people can and do make to society.

Older people have a wealth of skills, knowledge and experience that can benefit others, and the projects funded have pioneered schemes that have enabled them to play a much greater role in their communities, to cope with personal issues such as health, isolation and bereavement, and to live independently.

Age related deafblindness could one day affect any one of us.  With more and more people living longer, there are more people affected by this cruel condition. It can have a devastating impact on our ability to do the things we want, need or used to do.

People who are born, or become deaf or blind or deafblind early in life are taught methods of communication and mobility but if we become sensory impaired later in life it is usually too late to take on these new skills.

A child born deaf or becoming deafened at an early age will nowadays either be offered a cochlear implant, taught sign language or fitted with hearing aids at a time in their development when they will adapt to get the best possible use from them.

Hearing aids distort and amplify all sounds, not just conversation, and yet older people are routinely fitted with them without any proper training or the time to adjust and adapt to their use.

Expecting an older deafblind person to learn British Sign Language is also asking too much. British Sign Language is a ‘foreign’ language in its own right and like most new languages can take years to learn. Eyesight is an important factor in learning and using it too as facial expressions, body language and lip reading play an important role.

A child born with a serious visual impairment or who becomes blind early in life is likely to be taught to use Braille and then rely on their hearing and voice to communicate with the outside world.

Children born or who become deafblind are taught to communicate using a finger spelling alphabet called ‘deafblind manual’ which involves their carers spelling the conversation onto the child’s hand and the child responding by spelling onto the carer’s hand.

In each of these scenarios, the deaf, blind or deafblind person receives lots of specialist support and has the resources and time required to enable them to adapt.

A person who becomes deafblind late in life finds it difficult to learn the new skills needed to enable them to communicate or enjoy life without their key audio and visual senses. Age related deafblindness directly impacts on three crucial aspects of health and wellbeing: communication, mobility and information and if a Deafblind person does not have the right support:

  • They may not feel safe to go outside, making exercise impossible
  • They will find healthy eating difficult, as shopping and cooking are hard to do safely
  • They will struggle to communicate with others, becoming ever more isolated from friends and family
  • They will find it hard to read, watch television, listen to the radio, or keep their minds active
  • It will be difficult to give them information about healthy lifestyles, or managing medication and long term conditions

In Good Hands is there to help and this Silver Dreams Fund grant from the Big Lottery Fund will enable Scene to expand the project right across the North East and enhance the quality of support available to deafblind older people through the provision of more carers and a new programme of training based on the lessons learnt so far which will also lead to accredited awards.

David Sutton, Managing Director, Scene Enterprises said: “Deafblindness often affects people that are attempting to come to terms with other age related conditions and most are not prepared for the personal isolation, both mental and physical, it causes.

“Experience has shown us how skilled volunteers can make a real difference to the lives of deafblind people and we look forward to developing a region wide network, trained to identify and then make life more liveable for older deafblind people.”

Dharmendra Kanani, Big Lottery Fund England Director said: “Today’s grants will help support so many different groups of older people from isolated older men setting up hen houses in care home settings to addressing their social isolation through dining clubs. Their work today will help develop new ways of supporting older people for future generations to come.

“Scene Enterprises CIC successfully demonstrated their plans to expand and replicate the great work they have already started for more older people to benefit.  They are just one of ten projects to share £10 million today.”

The Big Lottery Fund, the largest distributor of National Lottery good cause funding, is responsible for giving out 40% of the money raised for good causes by the National Lottery. The Fund is committed to bringing real improvements to communities and the lives of people most in need and has been rolling out grants to health, education, environment and charitable causes across the UK. Since its inception in 2004 BIG has awarded close to £6bn. Find out more at

To find out more about In Good Hands, head to

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