What are we up to?

What are we up to?

It has been a busy time with notable successes but also some disappointments and, as always, many encouraging new opportunities.

Successful Grants.

First, a wonderful success story that speaks for itself. Back in late 2016 we came across Infosound which is a special charity based in Brighton that provides a free news and information service, in audio, to blind and partially-sighted people across Great Britain. The hub of this service is their audio studio and its condition presented a major challenge. The studio equipment was old and unreliable and if it failed then put simply, there would not be a service. It was clear that Infosound’s studio was living on borrowed time and there was no funding to modernise their audio equipment. Our trustees were impressed by this charity, the people and the work they did for the blind and partially sighted – we couldn’t let this vital service nit the buffers. We put forward a funding programme to them to focus on phase 1 of the updating the audio studio to address the immediate problems. We also introduced the “matched funding” approach encouraging them to go out and attract donations based on the promise that we would match the amount they raised with a grant. Unfortunately they were only able to raise £1000 against the phase 1 cost of £4388.60. We decided the cause was too important so made a grant for £3388.60 to ensure the project became a reality. Phase 1 went ahead in May 2017.  We visited their studio in October that year and were impressed by the operation but it was clear that the work to produce a modern reliable studio was not complete. We approached Infosound again in December 2017 and asked them to produce a specification and costings to complete the audio studio and secure the future of the charity’s service. We encouraged them to be more ambitious in what the studio should achieve. The cost for phase 2 was £7456.81. Again we challenged Infosound to go out and raise donations which we would match. Disappointingly they were only able to raise £1600. We had started on this journey and could not allow the project to fail. Our second grant met the shortfall of £5856.81. Infosound’s future which depends on having a modern and reliable audio studio was secure. We made two grants totaling £9245.41 representing nearly 80% of the total cost. Our trustees are proud to be associated with Infosound and to have played a major part in creating a modern studio for them. This studio also gives Infosound the ability to use modern technology to broaden their scope and access.  We asked Rowland Myers to give us an update on the studio and their work. This is what he had to say.

new kit that is making a real difference

“It is all about quality and reliability. It may not look very glamorous, but the new equipment that Infosound now has in its audio production studio could not be more important to us.

As a small, independent charity producing information, in audio, for the roughly 2 million blind and partially-sighted people in Great Britain, where someone starts to lose their sight every 15 minutes, quality and reliability means a great deal in their book.

The studio is usually in operation seven days a week, but until the recent grant from the Parry Family Charitable Foundation, some of the core equipment we were using was old, unreliable and in danger of failing at any moment.

Some of our audio production equipment was replaced last Autumn, thanks to a previous grant from the Parry Family Charitable Foundation and this recent grant enabled the charity to tackle many of the remaining equipment reliability concerns.

Being such a small outfit, quality and reliability are everything to us.  We need to be able to record interviews, edit audio and distribute it quickly and efficiently across all our delivery platforms.  There simply isn’t time for anything to fail.  And if there is a problem, we need to have a back-up ready to function immediately, be it an item of audio equipment or a piece of computing kit.  This latest grant has gone a long way towards future-proofing our operation.

Rowland Myers in the re-equipped studio

For over ten years, Infosound has been producing free and impartial news and information for vison-impaired people in Britain on any topic relevant to living with sight loss. This includes information about products that can help living with sight loss, news of support services, help with mobility, finance (including benefits) and independent living, leisure and social opportunities and the main issues of the day affecting vision-impaired people. Telephone interviews with charity staff and vision-impaired people often form an important part of the audio features they produce and some of the equipment bought has improved the reliability of this part of the production process; the latest grant is also enabling the charity to start to provide the technology for blind and partially-sighted people to contribute to Infosound from anywhere in Great Britain. These are exciting times for us.

Infosound brings its information to vision-impaired people through a constantly-running “broadcast” and its associated on-demand service, which enables listeners to choose what subject they want to hear about and when they want to hear it.

Infosound can now be heard over any standard phone, with the vision-impaired listener being able to use the keys on their telephone to control the sound; it can be heard on Infosound’s web site, using mainstream voice-controlled devices like the Amazon Echo and Amazon Dot and on specialist audio players and radios, developed specifically for blind and partially-sighted people. As a podcast, Infosound can be automatically delivered to smart mobile phones and tablets, themselves now fitted with speech feedback so they can be operated by someone with little or no sight. And Infosound communicates via Social Media.

There are now over two thousand activities by listeners and visitors to their service every single day, which are down to the variety of ways we are able to distribute the audio. We’ve tried to make Infosound available to hear in as many different ways as possible so blind and partially-sighted people can choose what suits them best. Technology is fantastic and it can enable us to be heard far and wide; but it’s that rather understated black equipment bay sitting on the studio floor, now containing new and reliable kit, which is actually where everything starts.”

This is a wonderful success story. It also highlights the tremendous work that small dedicated charities do but largely go unnoticed by the public at large. We are delighted to be associated with Infosound and to have contributed to their work and help secure their future.

… and other grant options?

We were very hopeful of providing a substantial grant to Willowbrook Hospice to fund an ambitious project to create an outdoor garden room at their hospice in Prescot, Merseyside. Sadly this project did gain any traction. We have made a small grant to fund some garden activities and have not ruled out that new opportunities with the hospice may arise in the future.

Institute in the Park in Liverpool is a charity that we have supported in the past and are monitoring their work to see whether there are needs in their research work that we could help to fund. Currently the research work is progressing well and there are no immediate equipment or specialist kit requirements. We may return to this important research work in future years.

kids at Thussanang just having fun

Our chairman Joanna Parry visited Tiger Kloof in South Africa in February 2018 and while there talked to key people about supporting Thussanang which is a centre in the township dedicated to disabled children and young people. In partnership with Windermere School we want to put a project together to secure the centre’s future and improve its facilities. There are considerable hurdles to overcome but we are all focused on delivering a range of benefits that are much needed. Discussions are encouraging and we are all hopeful that a pilot scheme can be launched in 2018 that would meet the costs of employing two teaching assistants and a cook.

our guests enjoying the new “cabaret” style Waldorf

We continue our Waldorf Afternoon Teas at St John’s Marlborough and Windermere School. They are all successful events which seem to get more popular and achieve new standards for catering and entertainment. The recent Waldorf at Marlborough in March was a huge success with nearly 60 people attending. It piloted a new format with a more relaxed and intimate cabaret atmosphere. Windermere’s next Waldorf is taking place in June and will use the new cabaret approach.

….. and new opportunities.

The Foundation is also in advanced planning with Branch which is a business in Bath whose MD and owner is Nick Parry, one of our trustees. The idea is that Branch will raise donations which we will match to make grants to two local charities that both Branch and the Foundation want to support. Branch’s staff are enthusiastic about this project and together we are shortlisting the local charities. This project should get underway later in the year.

The Foundation continues to make small grants to some new charities as well as those we have supported for a number of years. We are also talking to some small charities about “matched funding” grants whereby we challenge them to raise money for their cause which we will match. This grant approach is highly favoured by the trustees and we would like to see more activity in this area particularly with smaller, local charities.

Lots going on but as always it takes much longer to bring worthwhile projects together than you anticipate and, of course, there are applications for grants that we are not able to support. A successful and challenging time for the Foundation but there is much to be done.