Signworld, the BSL learners’ and teachers’ website (a supporter of Limping Chicken) is just over one year old.
John and Kathryn Denerley have been running Galloway Wildlife Conservation Park for exactly ten years.
2013 is the 120th anniversary of Dumfries and Galloway Society for the Deaf.
What do they have in common? They are all Deaf-led! And two weeks ago, they came together to organise a unique event, combining BSL learning with learning about wildlife and the environment. It was the first event of its kind, but one that they hope will continue in years to come.
Since its launch in March 2012, Signworld has been filling a gap in high-quality BSL learning and teaching resources. As well as individual learners, many BSL teachers use the Signworld website as a way of supporting students between classes, by setting tasks linked to the website to monitor and improve progress.
Invaluable as it is, directors Linda Day and Tessa Padden strongly believe it is best used to support, not to replace good BSL teachers. That’s why there are special group discounts for teachers who use it with their classes.
Likewise, while 24/7 access to good BSL online may be as close as most learners can get to the real thing for most of the time, it’s no substitute for meeting Deaf BSL users and having real, meaningful conversations. That’s why in its second year Signworld has started to plan and get involved in not only training events for BSL teachers, but also the kind of near-immersion event that will benefit learners so much.
John Denerley’s driving ambition is to protect, look after, and spread awareness about the wild animals he loves. He and his wife Kathryn have made Galloway Wildlife Conservation Park one of the foremost conservation centres in Britain. And John’s ability to share his passion and spread his knowledge and awareness to others in BSL is second to none. He’s a brilliant Deaf BSL user who not only provides a first-class linguistic role model, but who has something fascinating to say as well.
On top of all this, John somehow finds time to be Chair of Dumfries and Galloway Society for the Deaf!
Thus it was that over 50 BSL learners, Deaf people and the Signworld team came to Dumfries and Galloway for a special midsummer weekend of BSL, wildlife and barbecue!
The BSL learners were split into three groups – Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced. On Saturday 22 June, the Beginners and Intermediate went to the Wildlife Park, while the Advanced stayed at Dumfries Deaf Club for more structured training sessions. On Sunday 23 June the groups swopped over.
There is no doubt that the highlight of the weekend for everybody was the superb wildlife master-class and tour delivered by John at the Wildlife Conservation Park. In eloquent and flowing BSL, he explained his passion for wild animals and the environment, and the importance of protecting and preserving these beautiful creatures for future generations.
From the rare and cherished red panda, which remained a frustratingly elusive red blur among the trees, to the lynx, tapirs, otters, lemurs, and even the maned wolves and the old grey wolf Lupo, who all came happily to meet John, the visitors received the wildlife experience of a lifetime. The fact that it was developing their BSL skills at the same time was an added bonus!
On Saturday evening, everyone came together for a marvellous hand-wag and barbecue at Dumfries Deaf Club. Kathryn and a team of volunteers laid on a BBQ feast to match the feast of BSL, till eyes and bellies were equally satisfied!
At the end of the evening, John displayed yet another of his many incredible talents, when he gave a presentation, with pictures, on the history of Dumfries and Galloway Society for the Deaf.
Deaf people and learners had come from as far afield as London, Bristol, Manchester, Newcastle, Belfast, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness and Aberdeen. Everyone went away with a refreshed interest in BSL, a renewed awareness and respect for wildlife, and a higher level of knowledge of both.
Not only that, they discovered the beauties of a corner of the British Isles that was new to most of them, but one to which they would all love to return.
Even the weather smiled on them, by and large, both for the tours of the Park and the outdoor barbecue. Sunshine, BSL and the lovely landscape of the Scottish borders. What more could you ask for?
John Denerley has given an interview to The Limping Chicken about how he has become a wildlife expert and conservationist, and his hopes for the future, which will be published on Friday morning.
To find out more about Signworld, go to: www.signworldlearn.com
For more about Galloway Wildlife Conservation Park, go to: www.gallowaywildlife.org.uk
The Limping Chicken is the world's most popular Deaf blog, and is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.
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