A Birmingham charity which supports visually impaired and disabled people is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its day care service by launching an appeal to create a specialist sensory garden.

Focus Birmingham, based in Harborne, is calling on people to support a £65,000 fundraising appeal to transform part of the charity’s outdoor space.

The plan is to create a specialist sensory outdoor learning and fun environment for adults who are blind or partially sighted, or have multiple disabilities and complex care needs.

Focus Birmingham, which works with more than 7,000 people each year, has been running a specialist day care service for 50 years, providing social activities and learning opportunities for nearly 100 people with sight loss and multiple disabilities such as siblings Tara and Cardell Bishop. After consulting with service users, families and professionals, Focus has developed a plan to transform one of its external places into an interactive learning environment.

The fundraising appeal aims to create a fully accessible multi-sensory environment that service users can explore and engage with independently, using light, sound, movement and vibrations. It also has the benefit of increasing confidence and enjoyment from being outside in a special place.

Susan Hoath, Chief Executive Officer at Focus, said: “As we celebrate 50 years of our day care services, it is important that we continue to move forward in our commitment to being a centre of excellence that supports people across Birmingham affected by sight loss or disability so they can have an independent, happy and fulfilling life and future.

“Our plans to develop our external spaces to create interactive sensory environments will make learning more engaging for all our service users and visitors, through a combination of light, sound, vibration and textures in a fully integrated and accessible outdoor facility.

“The needs of most of the adults that attend our specialist day care services can often limit their opportunities to engage or interact with their surroundings, especially the outdoors. We believe that our sensory learning environment will break down these barriers and provide opportunities to improve physical mobility, creativity, social interaction and greater levels of independence as they can access all the different sensory elements within the area at their own individual pace and level.”

The initial design for the outdoor learning environment includes a colourful and tactile sensory pathway through the garden which is accessible for wheelchairs and can even be walked on barefoot for an additional sensory experience.

It is also hoped to install a wobble bridge so service users can experiment with movement and vibration, as well as water features and sensory plants, a tactile panel which people can explore with hands, and sound through the use of wind chimes, static musical instruments, and outdoor speakers.
Added Susan: “Our service users have limited opportunities to engage or interact with outside environments such as gardens or parks, so our aim is to break down these barriers, enabling life skill sessions to move outside.”

The appeal has the backing of local Edgbaston MP Preet Kaur Gill who said: “I am proud to support Focus Birmingham, a charity who provide much needed services to blind, visually impaired and disabled people in my constituency and the wider Birmingham area. When I visited in December last year, I was amazed at the enthusiasm and dedication that the staff displayed in helping individuals with visual impairments, and other disabilities, live full and independent lives.

“I urge everyone to get behind Focus Birmingham’s fundraising appeal for a new multi-sensory garden. This fantastic project will ensure that service users and visitors have access to an environment in which they can explore, and engage with, in order to aid their learning.”

A Just Giving page has been set up in support of the fundraising appeal, which can be visited at: https://www.justgiving.com/campaigns/charity/focus/sensorygarden

For more information about Focus Birmingham please visit www.focusbirmingham.org.uk or call either 0121 478 5200 or the charity’s helpline on 0121 478 5222.

Case Study

Siblings Cardell and Tara Bishop “would be lost” without the day care services they look forward to so much at Focus Birmingham’s Elizabeth Gunn Centre. So says their father Ray Bishop who has no doubt that life would be very different and difficult for his adopted children if the services provided by Focus did not exist.

Mr Bishop, aged 68, from Sutton Coldfield, is a full-time carer to Cardell, aged 31, and Tara, 33, after adopting them when they were both very young.

Both children have been attending day care services at Focus for 12 years due to visual impairment and other disabilities or learning difficulties.

Mr Bishop, who is married to Beryl, also has two other adopted children and four birth children, and also continues to foster. He said: “Life would be very difficult without the service that Focus provides. Tara and Cardell would go Saturday and Sunday as well as during the week if they could.

“They would be lost without it and would probably regress if they didn’t have this service. It has also prepared them, more so Tara, for independent living.”

Mr Bishop said Cardell and Tara were able to take part in various activities, go on days out into the community, enjoy arts and crafts sessions and make use of the sensory areas at the centre.

He said Cardell, who has multiple learning difficulties as well as limited vision, was fostered by him and his wife from the age of five and a half months, and then adopted when he was five years old.

Tara, who has Downs Syndrome, was adopted from the age of two. They had both been taught in special schools prior to accessing day care services at Focus.