Juliet England: Pioneering new centre for deafblind people to open in Selly Oak (with video)

Posted on June 19, 2017

A pioneering new £14m centre for the community, covering Selly Oak and the wider Birmingham area, is set to open this summer, providing specialist services to people who are deafblind, have sensory impairments or other complex needs.

Called TouchBase Pears, the centre is being developed by the national disability charity Sense.

But the whole community will also have access to the centre, which will incorporate a café, library, conference and training facilities, areas for performances and lots of general community space. Part of a regeneration drive for the area, it’s projected to create more than 100 new jobs.

Staff will all be deaf and disability-aware, and understand BSL, making for a comfortable environment for users.

Watch the video below made by those involved in the new building, which has voiceover. You can also scroll down to the bottom of the page for a transcript provided by Melanie Brown!

Sense’s patron, HRH Princess Royal, announced the centre in December 2015, at a cost of £14m, with an overall fundraising target of £5m.

The Chief Executive of Sense, Gillian Morbey, said: “This project will make a real difference to so many lives. The idea is to develop a resource for the region that benefits the wider community as well as those with sensory impairments.”

Martyn Wright, a Communicator Guide with Sense Community Services, adds: “TouchBase Pears is so important because it’s accessible to everyone, and provides so many different services under a single roof.”

Warren standing before the TouchBase Pears

Someone who’ll benefit particularly is Warren Newman, who is deafblind, from Birmingham’s Oldbury and currently a volunteer at the nearby Bournville Pavilion, where he’s been distributing BSL cards to visitors and encouraging them to fingerspell their names. Once TouchBase Pears opens its doors, Warren will be welcoming people into the café, taking food orders, working the till, washing up and clearing up.

Martyn Wright adds: “For Warren, working in the café, it’s somewhere he can invite his friends. In addition, they can see Warren achieving his goals and he will be a positive role model for others in a similar situation. When people see Warren volunteering in the café without any barriers, they can see that it’s possible for them to achieve something similar too.

“Using the volunteer experience he’s had at the Bournville Pavilion Café, he’ll continue to progress and improve his skills. His communication will continue to develop. He’s also been involved in teaching classes of British Sign Language in preparation for the new café opening. This is a great opportunity for him. He will continue to develop, and it will give him the chance to apply for a job.

“He’ll also learn how to manage his own money, so that in the future, if he wants, he can become independent and have his own home, having developed the necessary life skills. TouchBase Pears is going to be a hugely positive experience.”

Warren himself explains: “At TouchBase Pears I’ve been working with the foreman to give guided tours on ‘Hard Hat’ days. These are days when visitors have been allowed onto the building site to see the development, and I’ve showed them the different spaces. This includes the café, theatre and a variety of art rooms. I’ve been very proud to do this. I’ve also been involved in making accessibility decisions, for example about contrasting colours for the visually impaired so that there is a clear differentiation around the building. I’ve had a good look at what’s been achieved so far, and it’s all looking great!

“I’m particularly excited about the café. I’ve also looked at different furniture and given feedback on what would be the most accessible. There’s also going to be a special menu with a variety of food. This not only includes people who have intolerances or allergies, but who have other dietary needs for example they may need to have their food blended.

“I really enjoy demonstrating the new equipment we have ready for opening and the food storage area.

“I can’t wait for the centre to open!”

Sense staff move into the building in early July, there are open days every Tuesday 10am-4pm between 11 July and 29 August, while the café and building will be fully open to the public from September

Transcript for the video:

Transcript – TouchBase Pears Limping Chicken and Sense Staff / Service Users – British Sign Language with English Voice Over – Melanie Brown NRCPD Registered British Sign Language / English Interpreter

Hello. My name’s Anne Lucas. I work for Sense in the HR Department. I’ve worked for Sense now for twelve years. At the moment we’re moving to a new office space at TouchBase Pears. I think everyone’s excited really, because we’re going to move into an open plan space. That means we get to see the finance team and all the other departments. I’ll get to know more people, more members of staff, but also, we get to go downstairs and hopefully, we’re going to meet more deaf people, blind people, people with Ushers Syndrome, they’ll all be coming in and we’ll get to use our breaks to chat and really enjoy some recreation time with them. Maybe do different activities. It’s exciting and this is something that we’re going to look forward to.

My name’s Warren. I’m one of the TouchBase Champions, and I’m also learning to be a waiter ready for when the new café space opens. There’s going to be blind people, wheelchair users, deafblind people, perhaps they’ll use deafblind manual to communicate. It’s going to be good. Works going to be good! I’m looking forward to welcoming different people there and asking them what food they’d like from the menu. I’ve seen the new space, it looks really good. There’s also going to be art, and different rooms for other activities, it’s nice and bright. There’s going to be music, and, well, whatever you like really.

My name’s Yvonne Barrow. I work here at Sense, I’m one of the cleaners. I’ve been here for eight years now. I can’t wait to move to TouchBase! It’s going to be a much bigger space to clean. My new manager, she’s Josie Bell, she’s a fantastic Signer! Soon, hopefully, more deaf people will also join us.

(Ian Huggett – TouchBase Champion) TouchBase! Oh I’m really excited and happy about Touchbase! It’s absolutely massive! There’s going to be cinema, a kitchen, a café, a bar. I’m going to get drunk. Really, I’d like to get drunk at Christmas time, when there’s lots and lots of people there going to watch different films, theatre, the gym. Swimming something I enjoy, but there I’m going to enjoy watching the films, going to the café, and going to the gym. It’s going to be so exciting!

Read more of Juliet’s articles for us here. Juliet England does freelance social media and PR work for cseeker.

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