Voluntary Sector Focus: Chris Beech, Project Development Manager,  Zebra Access CIO - Wolverhampton Voluntary Sector Council

by James Clarke
1 month ago
226 Views

Tell us about your organisation, how you started and what you do?

Zebra Access formed in 2005 after a series of Deaf related service cuts were made by councils across the Black Country region resulting in many Deaf, Deaf Blind and Hard of Hearing people feeling marginalised due to the barriers in accessing mainstream services.

Zebra Access is a local Deaf-led charity based in Wolverhampton dedicated to ensuring that all Deaf, Deaf-blind and Hard of Hearing people enjoy equal participation and access without communication barriers by delivering accessible services, activities, campaigns and events across the Black Country and surrounding areas. Zebra Access offers the following services:

  • Generic Advocacy (drop in sessions and 1 to 1 appointments) – i.e. supporting people filling in PIP/DLA/EHCP/Benefits forms, providing support at tribunals etc.
  • Employment Support and Job Club – (drop in clubs, workshops and 1 to 1 sessions available) providing specialised and holistic employment support in CV writing, interview role plays, getting into education/training/volunteering/jobs and much more.
  • English & Maths Tutorials – (1-1 or group) bespoke tutorials delivered in BSL.
  • British Sign Language and Deaf Awareness training (up to Level 2) – this can be class based, via video call or home visits for parents/family members/neighbours of a Deaf, Hard of Hearing or deafened person or not for profit organisation.
  • Community Developments/Activities/Events – i.e. Council/Health Forums, building partnerships, supporting other community groups/organisations etc.
  • Wellbeing service: Coffee mornings/afternoon teas, trips, health workshops and activities i.e. yoga, badminton and so on.
  • Befriending scheme – volunteers can give their time to provide company to isolated and lonely deaf people via face to face visits, video calls, text/video messages and letters.

What has been your greatest achievement?

Developing and delivering the above services across the Black Country, especially during the pandemic where our team had to radically adapt to delivering our services remotely via video calls. During these unprecedented times, we managed to deliver the following within the past year:

COVID Champions: supporting Walsall and Wolverhampton COVID Champions projects by engaging with the Deaf, Deaf Blind and Hard of Hearing communities to improve their understanding and access to information about the pandemic.

Community: we resumed face to face Coffee Morning sessions on the 23rd of July, 18 months after our last one.

The past 6 months has seen our team deliver the following:

  • BSL Videos: over 40 videos covering a wide range of subjects including COVID-19 with a total of 20,000+ views.
  • Zoom sessions: coffee mornings, Mental Health workshops, BSL Social Evening sessions
  • Social media live activities (Facebook): Quizzes, Workshops i.e. Tech support, Advocacy.
  • Online services e.g. BSL/Deaf Awareness training, Be-friend scheme, Deaf Awareness
  • Won 2 awards during this period: SME News – Most Dedicated Deaf Support Service provider 2020 and Corporate Live Wire – Deaf Charity of the Year, Central England, 20/21
  • Employment: placed 15 participants into work,  2 placed in full time education. We currently have a 98.8% participant attendance rate online!

What is your experience of support received from WVSC?

WVSC has been instrumental in supporting us during our development years where their advice and guidance was invaluable in enabling us to unpick the myriad of funding avenues and identify what could work best for our organisation; not to mention providing invaluable guidance relating to governance and registration with the Charity Commission. Without WVSC’s advice, guidance and support Zebra Access would not be where it is now.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learnt about working with people in Wolverhampton?

The most valuable lesson learnt is that feedback and issues raised by people of Wolverhampton need to be followed up and followed through! Too many well-meaning activities/consultations have not resulted in action or satisfactory outcomes, which then results in the said people becoming disengaged. The most difficult thing is re-engaging with these people when their confidence in the system/service is very low; ‘same old thing with the same old outcome’.

What are some of the challenges you face and how can WVSC help to support your organisation in the future?

The most challenging times are yet to come for Deaf, Deaf Blind and Hard of Hearing people. They have been marginalised and hit hard by the pandemic with information, access to services and even social aspects of their lives moving predominately onto audio/telephone platforms (i.e. medical appointments, benefit claims, food parcels, COVID isolation support etc.).

Now many organisations post informative videos without captions or BSL access. The Accessible Information Standard (CCG, NHS and Social Services) has fallen flat on its face with many Deaf, Deaf Blind and Hard of Hearing people being contacted by phone when it is clear on their records that they have communication needs i.e. BSL, Text only, etc.

We need to ensure that Deaf, Deaf Blind and Hard of Hearing people’s access needs are accounted for in ALL processes across the board, not as an afterthought.

WVSC’s support would be much appreciated in ensuring that organisations take this into consideration, especially the statutory ones. Also any support in understanding the forever changing funding landscape which has changed considerably during the pandemic would be very useful.

Where can we find out more?

Chris Beech, Project Development Manager, Zebra Access CIO
Tel: 01902 421919
Email: chris@zebra-access.com
Web: www.zebra-access.com
Facebook: @ZebraAccess
Twitter: @ZebraAccess
Instagram: @Zebra_Access
Creative Industries Centre, Wolverhampton Science Park, Glaisher Drive, Wolverhampton, West Midlands, WV10 9TG

Would you like to be featured in our Voluntary Sector Focus? Contact Sharon Nanan-Sen on snanan-sen@wolverhamptonvsc.org.uk for more info!