Sunday, 13 March 2011

Sunday, 13th March - Living Paintings Trust

Since Friday I've been suffering from a constant stabbing pain in my left eye by being too vigorous with taking out my contact lens. While I can (just about) put up with the pain, it's the not knowing if it will get better that is frightening. I don't know where to turn or what to do about it. Mr M wants to take me to the Minor Injuries Unit but last time I went there, it had closed and I was referred to Westcall who told me not to "try to access healthcare services in West Berkshire". The reason? My GP is in another county. When I moved to West Berkshire I registered with a doctor here as I had a lump on my breast and bizarrely a verruca at the same time. The doctor's assessment, without looking at either of these symptoms, was "you can't get breast cancer in your 20s and there's no point in my burning off the verruca as they're not infectious." So that's why my GP remains in Dorset and why I'm less than cheerful about paying so much tax for a hospital that I can't access!!

The reason for this moan is so I can insert a cliche here about how important sight, and indeed, health is. I opted for the Living Paintings Trust as my charity of today and have sent them a donation through the post, using my right eye to write the cheque! (much more satisfying than via paypal or credit card!).

The Living Paintings Trust is a local charity based in Kingsclere, just outside Newbury and provides free tactile books and packs, bringing the visual world to life for blind and partially sighted people. They make special raised versions of pictures that come to life when they're felt and also create sound recordings which tell the pictures’ stories while directing the fingertips across the raised image.

Living Paintings was formed in 1989 by Alison Oldland MBE, formerly a lecturer in Art History. Alison would say that the story of how Living Paintings came about was a ‘typical Oldland family story’ i.e. a tale of the unexpected. Alison wanted another family dog but not one that was going to chew her furniture. As a result the family ‘adopted’ a rejected trainee guide dog, Emma, and from the day she arrived in the house it was clear why this dopey, soppy, blonde had not made the grade! She remained, very happily with the family for many years until her timely departure to doggy heaven.

To say “thank you”, Alison decided to give a series of lectures in her beloved History of Art to raise money for Guide Dogs for the Blind. To the first came Tony Castleton, then Head of Appeals for Guide Dogs. He was blind. Projecting images of great masters onto a screen and knowing that a member of the audience could not see these glorious works of art, Alison took great care in describing what was being looked at. So successful was she that Tony asked her to record descriptions of other works of art for him to enjoy at home, in his own time. The seed for an incredible idea was sown.

Realising that there was a possibility of sharing her great love of art with people who could not actually see, Alison was inspired to do more. Little did she know that this would lead her to setting up a national, award winning charity and that to achieve this she would have to educate the sighted establishment in what could be achieved with the right approach and effort. She really was about to break new ground.

No one had ever before thought of helping blind and partially sighted people engage with and enjoy pictures let alone great works of art. Twenty years ago, it was deemed to be extraordinary if not slightly mad. Perhaps the cries of ‘why on earth would a blind person want to know about pictures’ added extra fuel to Alison’s fire, in fact it certainly did!

Next came the idea of adding to the audio description a relief image of what is being ‘looked’ at. This would add another layer of information through touch. After a numerous attempts that were tried, tested and improved upon over and again – success!

Developing a concept that challenged established thinking meant that Alison needed to turn directly to the people she wanted to help and so she formed a new family (as if 5 children was not enough!) of blind and partially sighted friends. They helped with all the testing and working out how best to deliver this new concept. In hindsight, Living Paintings can thank its lucky stars for this as right from its founding the ethos has been to listen to, HEAR, and react to our beneficiaries. In the early days those people were what gave Alison the determination to keep going despite the many obstacles and today it is much the same though the obstacles have become positive challenges.

**Update - got a nice email this morning:
Thank you for donation - it is very much appreciated.

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