Life as an Enablement Officer at Henshaws

Kate is one of our Community Enablement Officers based at our hub in Oldham, Greater Manchester. We asked her to explain what her role was and how she helps the blind and visually impaired people across the borough (with help from her guide dog Sparkie!)

Introduction

Hello, my name is Kate and I’m the Community Enablement Officer for Oldham. I’ve worked here for about four and a half years, and I am visually impaired myself (I am totally blind and have no light or dark perception).  My guide dog is called Sparkie, who is four years old and is a golden retriever.

I’m sure if you live in Oldham and access our services, you have already met me! Our hub is based at Medtia Place on Union Street in Oldham town centre, but we also have social and hobby groups that meet at community venues in Royton, Uppermill and other venues across Oldham.

Enablement Officer Kate

A typical week in my role as Enablement Officer

Firstly within my job there are no typical weeks, as each one is different!  Pre-lockdown I would start the week going to the hub in Oldham (which is 10 miles  away from where I live) by taxi and meet up with my PA, Elaine.  Both Sparkie and I liked the fact that we were getting out and about together, to go out to work and try to make a difference to the lives of other people living with a visual impairment.

After a quick brew and a catch up (with Sparkie bouncing round the office with his latest favourite  toy!)  I would then look at emails and any telephone queries that had come in to be dealt with. This could be someone who is new to sight loss and has no idea where to turn to, or someone who may have had sight issues for years and requires further assistance, advice and guidance.

There are a lot of assessments and Personal Plans to complete for the majority of people, discussing how we can help them and looking at a way forward that is as individual and unique as they are.  A lot of these assessments are done over the phone, with Elaine inputting information onto the relevant IT systems for me (her being “my eyes”).

When chatting and carrying out these assessments,  this is where I can come into my own; I am able to use my wealth of knowledge from my own sight loss journey, after being born prematurely and weighing only 2lbs with limited sight, to losing it completely at the age of 27 having just left home to go to university!

I hope that because I have this unique story that, where appropriate, this could inspire people that anything can be possible, with a little support, if they so choose.

Pre-lockdown, I was also able to carry out assessments face-to-face in the hub.  I get to meet a wide variety of people, both staff who work for other services in the building, along with the general public who are coming to access different services.  I am sure that one of the reasons why a lot of the staff know me is because of my four legged friend, who you can’t help but falling in love with!

Sparkie, Elaine and I are also regularly out and about within the local community across Oldham. This could be visiting one of the social groups who meet regularly, or facilitating one of our Living Well with Sight Loss courses.  Whatever it is that I am doing, it is having that face-to-face presence that our service users appreciate.

Along with these regular groups, I am also involved with partnership working with a variety of different organisations, including Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council VI Rehab Team and the Eye Clinic Liaison Officer at the ICC, to other organisations  such as Guide Dogs,  Transport for Greater Manchester, Age UK, and Diabetes UK to name a few.

How the role of Enablement Officer has changed with Covid-19

How has the pandemic impacted on my job? Massively is the hard and fast answer, not only from the point of view that Elaine and I can no longer work in the same room together (as we are currently over 5 miles apart, so “my eyes” are a long distance from me – we have brought a whole new meaning to social distancing!

My new look office is my home computer in my  lounge.  I do not physically leave the house to go to work, which has also impacted an over-enthusiastic Sparkie, who I have to tell several times a day that I am now at work and can’t play toys! Working from home has also impacted on my poor Mum who lives with me, so she gets no peace and quiet! Staff meetings are conducted over the phone with me sat on my sofa, often joined by one of my cats too. A positive to me being at home is for my retired guide dog, as she loves me being about so much!

On a practical level, any information has to be sent to me by Elaine (who has my work laptop) and then any responses have to be either sent back to her in writing or over the telephone. This means that it takes a lot longer to do the simplest of tasks.

All of the face-to-face groups have had to temporarily stop, including the various social groups, Tech Talk sessions and the training courses.  New ways of working have had to be put in place, using a variety  of different technology.

However, the most important thing is that I am still here working for Henshaws as their Enablement Officer, and our beliefs and values as an organisation haven’t changed, with the visually impaired person being the most important. It is just how things are done that has.

Thank you for reading about my role

On a personal note, because I am visually impaired and a guide dog owner, I have an advantage that I have personal experiences of the challenges that we are all currently facing, and I am more than happy to share my knowledge and experiences with others as Sparkie and I start to re-engage in the new “normal” way of life.

I am hopeful that things will change as a result of the pandemic and that society will learn to be more kind to others and prepared to assist those who require it.

If you live in Oldham and would like to talk to me about your own sight loss, or that of a relative or friend, please do get in touch with me by calling 0300 222 5555 or send an email to info@henshaws.org.uk

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Sarah
Sarah
Sarah is the Marketing Manager with responsibility for Community Services across Greater Manchester, and the Knowledge Village.