Updated: Jan 31
A new music group for blind and partially sighted people hasbeen launched at ARC Stockton and they're looking for more people to join in their creative activities. The group offers blind and partially sighted people in the North East the opportunity to socialise, sing and play various musical instruments.
The group's evolution started with Bert Louissen and Jonathan Meers, both keen musicians. The group was then formed through the national lockdown via online Open Mic Nights, arranged through the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB).
ARC regular visitor Ros Perkins is also a Community Connection Volunteer with the RNIB and was instrumental in finding the group a local venue. She contacted ARC's team to explore the possibility of the group meeting regularly there.
Ros said: "I learned that a group o blind and partially sighted people were very keen to get together to make music. They had a rehearsal room in the North of our area but were very keen to find one in the South, ideally Stockton, so that nobody would be geographically disadvantaged. The last year and a half has been hugely challenging for blind and partially sighted people and the group being able to meet and make music together would give them such a boost."
Ros and Janette Donnelly, RNIB's Community Connection Co-ordinator, viewed one of ARC's spaces, The Workshop, to assess its suitability for the group's meetings. The first took place in November.
Janette said: "I was extremely emotional for the first meeting. It was great to see them come together after supporting each other through lockdown. We're so excited that ARC is hosting this new group. We're starting with eight but are keen for more to join. There's no fee, just a small contribution to a cuppa and biscuits. Eventually we'd like the group to become independent and choose its future direction."
The meeting was a positive experience for attendees. Jonathan Mears, 32, lives in Gateshead. He has been partially sighted froim birth and first started playing the guitar aged 11. Jonathan has previously performed in churches and at the Sage Gateshead. He said: "The group is something different and valuable for blind and partially sighted people who enjoy socialising around music. I wasn't aware of ARC and came here on the bus and train. It was worth the trip and I hope we get more numbers coming. There's so much that you can try, it's not just about music but coming to make new connections."
Lillian McCarthy, 60, from Middlesbrough has been blind since birth and is a member of the town's Voice Choir. Lillian said: "We had our first meetings virtually during lockdown and it's so good that we can now meet face to face. It's definitely important that we get groups like this together. It's good for wellbeing and I get to practice what I've learned in singing lessons."
Tim Casey, 51, from Norton has been partially sighted for 30 years. He’s also a keen guitarist and said: “I’ll be back for the next meeting. There’s nothing else going on, most music activity is on a night. Getting there and back when you’re partially sighted is very difficult. The group gets people together, there needs to be more groups, not just about music. It also links people who are totally blind with those who have a little bit of sight left.”
The group will meet on alternative months in 2022, in ARC’s Workshop space, on Fridays from 1pm to 3pm. The next meeting will take place Friday 7 January. For more details please email Janette.Donnelly@rnib.org.uk.