Conference Workshops: Thursday 26 September 2024

All workshops have limited places available, so please ensure you send your preferred second choices.  We will endeavour to allocate your first choice where possible.

Workshop Session 3:  10:45 – 12:00

Demystifying AI: It’s not a trend. Why you should engage. 

Join Hewete for an interactive workshop which will explore the benefits and risks of using Generative AI at work and the very real drawbacks of ignoring AI completely.

Audience: All

Geography: UK wide

Hewete Haileselassie, Editorial Leader, Communications Specialist, Trainer, and Content Creator

Hewete is an editorial leader, communications specialist, trainer, and content creator with good working relationships and media contacts across the UK, Africa and beyond.  As a leader, the things that light Hewete up most are developing and mentoring people, gender equality, diversity, inclusion and bringing about positive change – bringing integrity and industry to all strands of their work.

Villa Vision – Visit the mobile unit

Villa Vision, the first initiative of its kind in the UK, aims to increase the knowledge and awareness of the importance of having an eye test and how preventative measures can ensure, among a host of benefits, a lifetime of good vision. This is achieved through the delivery of a programme of eye health awareness lessons in the classroom along with free vision and colour vision screening.  This is followed up with more comprehensive eye test and free glasses to children and young people who require them.  This service is delivered using a fully operational custom-designed mobile eye care unit. Delegates will be offered the opportunity to explore this innovative facility as one of the workshop options on 26 September.

Audience: All

Geography: UK wide

Professor Leon N. Davies PhD, FCOptom, Prof Cert Med Ret, FAAO, SFHEA, Chair in Optometry & Physiological Optics,Interim Head of School, Optometry

Professor Leon Davies is an optometrist and Professor of Optometry & Physiological Optics at Aston University, Chair of the Board and Immediate Past President of The College of Optometrists. Professor Davies is a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers, a Fellow of both the College of Optometrists and the American Academy of Optometry, and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. He is a past Clinical Editor of Optometry Today, and past Editor-in-Chief of the peer review journal Optometry in Practice. In 2022, he was appointed an Honorary Professor at the University of Bradford. He has served as an external examiner for taught undergraduate and postgraduate degree programmes in Bradford, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Plymouth and Singapore. Leadership roles at Aston include Director of Research of the Optometry and Vision Science Research Group (2010-2017) and Head of the School of Optometry (2016-2021 & 2024). He has served as a member of Council (2015 to date) and Board Trustee of the College of Optometrists (2016 to date), Chair of their Research Committee (2016-2020), Vice President (2020-2022), President (2022-2024) and in April 2024 was appointed Chair of the Board of Trustees.

Nikhil Sonpal BSc (Hons) Optometry MCOptom, Project Manager, Villa Vision

Nikhil is a General Optical Council (GOC) registered Optometrist and current Project Manager for Villa Vision, an eye health initiative delivered through Aston Villa Football Club’s charitable arm, the Aston Villa Foundation.

Having played an integral role in the design and development of the Villa Vision programme, Nikhil has created a double award nominated and award-winning initiative that has enabled over 14,000 interventions amongst school-aged children across the city of Birmingham. This dedication to the initiative has recently led to Nikhil being named Aston Villa’s Premier League Community Captain for 2024.

With a career spanning more than 20 years in the optics industry, Nikhil has previously had roles as a community-based optometrist, clinical lead, and practice manager for a large UK multiple, collaborated with Moorfields Eye Hospital on eye disease research, and is also the founder of a community-based eye health awareness initiative.

Thank you to EssilorLuxottica  for sponsoring this workshop.

Putting the Human in HR

Prepare to embark on a transformative journey as we welcome Helen Griffin, Head of Human Resources at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, to our conference. With her infectious passion and extensive experience in the charity sector, Helen is poised to captivate delegates with a workshop that promises to revitalise the way we approach Human Resource (HR) Management.

In this high-energy session, Helen will share innovative strategies that transcend traditional HR boundaries, creating a dynamic and inclusive environment where employees feel truly empowered, supported, and valued. Discover how to craft HR processes that not only meet legal and statutory obligations but also foster a culture of trust, collaboration, and continuous growth.

Helen will share insights, best practices, and real-world examples that will highlight the role of HR in driving organisational success. From cultivating a diverse and inclusive workforce to nurturing talent and fostering employee engagement, this workshop will equip you with the tools to unlock the full potential of your most valuable asset – your people.

Audience: All

Geography: UK wide

Helen Griffin, Head of Human Resources at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home

Helen is an experienced senior people professional with over 25 years in the voluntary sector working for a variety of charities. She’s passionate about people and culture, creating impact, and enabling organisations to be great places to work and volunteer. Currently working at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, Helen is due to take up a new director role at Hearing Dogs for Deaf People in September.

Children and Charles Bonnet Syndrome

Luke Spink, Charles Bonnet Information Manager of Esme’s Umbrella, will lead a workshop exploring why childhood diagnosis of Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS) lags behind adults and how to increase awareness and support. Evidence from a recent study will be presented, and we will hear Miles Northwood’s lived experience.

After screening the film “Aspectum,” we will discuss ways to introduce CBS to children and encourage them to share their experiences. Key questions include: Who should initiate these discussions? How should CBS be explained? What support could help? Should there be parent/carer support groups? Peer support for children?

The workshop will discuss ideas for organisations to increase CBS awareness among those working with children and to agree future action.

Audience: All

Geography: UK wide


Luke Spink, Charles Bonnet Syndrome Information Manager, Esme’s Umbrella

Luke is Charles Bonnet Syndrome Information Manager at Esme’s Umbrella, where he is dedicated to raising awareness and providing information about Charles Bonnet Syndrome.  Additionally, Luke is the Senior Engagement Officer at Halifax Society for the Blind, committed to improving the lives of visually impaired people within Calderdale.

Miles Northwood, Volunteer, Esme’s Umbrella

Former England blind cricketer, development officer for the World Blind Cricket Council and international director for Blind Cricket England and Wales.  Miles is also Community Fundraising Relationship Manager at Guides Dogs UK.

Dr Lee Jones, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, NIHR Clinical Research Facility, Moorfields Eye Hospital

Lee has a background in Health Psychology and a PhD in Optometry and Visual Science. He has previously worked as a research fellow at Moorfields Eye Hospital and Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham working on a range of projects relating to age-related eye health. He currently works at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology. For his contributions to psychology, he was awarded the William Inman Prize from the British Psychological Society.

Rehab Crisis – Ways Forward? A look at models for solution.

The crisis in rehabilitation services is well known, but how can this be resolved? This workshop looks at 2 newly implemented models from 2 vastly different regions, both of which utilise local sight loss charities expertise to find a solution.

  1. Essex – One of the highest populations of people estimated to be living with sight loss has three sight loss societies, three Integrated Care Systems, one local authority, and some of the most affluent urban areas alongside areas of highest national deprivation.
  2. Isle of Wight – one of the smallest unitary authorities with UK’s highest ageing population and one charity directly employing Rehabilitation Officer for the Visually Impaired (ROVI’S) and Vision Rehabilitation Specialist Apprentice.

Learn how we maximise expertise and utilise skills to avoid duplication and ensure that each person receives the services they need in a timely manner, and how we join up the Eye Care Support Pathway to ensure that all those on it are ‘Waiting Well’ and supported on their journey.

This interactive workshop will look at the process involved in commissioning and implementing these models, the glitches, outcomes and future visions for an optimised rehab service. Join commissioners, local society leads and Sensory Service managers to look at possible solutions for your locality.

Audience: Everyone with an interest in sensory service provision

Geography: UK wide

Sharon Schaffer, CEO, Support 4 Sight

With Support 4 Sight, and the England Vision Strategy before that, Sharon is committed to ensuring that everyone receives the support they need at the time they need it, through joined up, person centred services. Support 4 Sight is currently co-delivering the newly redesigned Essex Sensory Contract.

Michelle Thompson, CEO, Blind and Sight Impaired Society(BASIS)

Michellw has been with BASIS since 2017, based in South Essex. She is currently working in partnership with other local and national sensory charities to deliver the sensory contract in Essex.

Lisa Hollyhead, CEO, Sight for Wight

Lisa is a Chartered Accountant by trade but is now the CEO of the Isle of Wight Society for the Blind which holds the sensory service contract for the Isle of Wight. Lisa is registered DeafBlind.

Jonathan Dixon, Director of Operations, Essex Sight

Johnathan worked for the Essex Sight for 6 years, having previously worked in sport and disability sport development, co delivering the sensory contract in Essex.

Ruth Pye, Senior Commissionng Officer, Essex County Council

Having worked in the sensory space for 5 years, Ruth is passionate about the difference our interventions and support can make for people. She is also passionater about the impact raising awareness can have to improve accessibility and increase the effectiveness of early intervention monies.

Emma Dowker, Trainee Vision Rehabilitation Specialist, Sight for Wight

Formerly working exclusively with children, Emma decided on a complete career change and started her training at Sight for Wight in November last year. Her formal Apprenticeship with Vision Rehabilitation Training began on 1 May 2024 which entails, day release to London, one day a week set aside for study and the remainder of time working alongside the team of assessors and qualified VRS.  Emma will qualify in April 2026.

Sponsor: Thank you to Guide Dogs UK for sponsoring this workshop.

Vision Partnership: The Eye Care Support Pathway – Including the patient voice and working together to deliver our aims.

The Eye Care Support Pathway report was endorsed by 23 sector partners and launched on 16 November 2023.  The report is a resource designed for professionals to highlight the non-clinical support needs of people with eye care needs and sight loss.

A public facing resource has also been developed which can be used by people with eye care needs and their family, friends and carers to ensure at each stage of the pathway they understand their eye care journey; their diagnosis and how to access practical and emotional support.

This workshop will explore how people with lived experience were involved in the development of the Eye Care Support Pathway over the last three years.  We will also discuss how we are moving to implementation and highlight how we are working together across the sector to do this.

The workshop audience will learn:

  • How they can get involved in this work moving forward.
  • How they can meaningfully engage across the sector and with people with lived experience.
  • How they can use and implement the Eye Care Support Pathway in their local area.

Audience: All

Geography: UK wide


Helen Doyle, Strategic Engagement Manager – NHS, RNIB

Helen Doyle is Strategic Engagement Manager to the NHS at RNIB.  Her background is in health research, and she has a number of publications across health policy and more recently in visual impairment and the third sector. She has worked in the eye care and sight loss sector for 17 years. Her previous role was as a research and insight manager where she focused on evidencing the need for support for people with eye care needs. In her current role at RNIB she has been working on the development of the Eye Care Support Pathway collaborating across the eye care sector to ensure people with eye care needs and their support requirements are central.


David Anderson, CEO, ELVIN and Pathways Project Lead, Visionary

David is currently Chief Executive of ELVIN (formerly Accrington & District Blind Society). David was seconded to Visionary from ELVIN to lead on our RNIB and Visionary Pathways Project which worked alongside six member organisations to understand and shape the response of the local voluntary sector to the implementation and delivery of the Eye Care Support Pathway.

Denise Crone, Chief Executive Officer, Sutton Vision

Jayshree Vasani, ECSP – Delivery and Implementation Manager, RNIB

Sponsor: Thank you to RNIB for sponsoring this workshop as part of the Pathways Project.

Workshop Session 4:  12:15 – 13:30

Visual Impairment, Autism and Neurodiversity in Children and Young People

Join Charlotte, Eleanor and Olivia for an informative workshop, which will:

  • Share an overview regarding concepts of neurodiversity – reviewing definitions of autism/autism spectrum conditions.
  • Review development of social communication and joint attention skills, in children and young people with visual impairment.
  • Highlight the evidence base for early intervention and support of social communication vulnerabilities.
  • Share our top tips for how to open conversations about neurodiversity and autism with the families we support.

Audience: Anyone working with children and young people with visual impairment.

Geography: UK wide

Charlotte Mellor, Parent Service, VICTA

Charlotte uses her lived experience as a parent of a child with neurodiversity and visual impairment, to inform the support she provides to families through VICTA Parent Services. Amongst many activities, she has facilitated workshops for parents who have questions about how to best support their children if they have concerns regarding autism and neurodiversity.

Olivia Knight, Occupational Therapist, Great Ormond Street Hospital

Olivia is a highly skilled Occupational Therapist with expertise in supporting children with autism and neurodisability. She is part of the Multi Discipline Team alongside Eleanor in the Developmental Vision Clinic at Great Ormond Street Hospital, who provide specialist assessment and recommendations for children with visual impairment.

Eleanor Yule, Consultant Paediatrician, Great Ormond Street Hospital

Eleanor is a Consultant in Paediatric Neurodisability. She works alongside Olivia in the Developmental Vision Clinic at Great Ormond Street Hospital. She has a passion for child centred, strength-based approach to supporting children with disabilities.

CVI: Certification and Registration in Northern Ireland & Wales

Certification and registration of those who are sight impaired (SI) provides commissioners, and the providers of health and social care support to those with vision loss, with quantifiable data on the extent of blindness and visual impairment within a community. In this presentation Drs Williams and Jackson will describe their experiences of the processes involved in their respective homelands and highlight new and exciting developments.

Delegates should leave with a clear indication as to how certification/registration data can be used as an important tool in advocating for improved services for blind and partially sight people.

Audience: All

Geography: UK wide

A.J. Jackson: BSc (Hon 1st) PhD, FCOptom (DipTp IP), FAAO (LV Dip Res), FBCLA, Consultant Optometrist & Director Northern Ireland Clinical Research Network.

Prof Jackson (JJ) has been a hospital optometrist for almost 40 years and has pursued a career in evidence based secondary care optometry, working in teaching hospitals, universities and professional colleges in Northern Ireland, England, United States and Australia. Jonathan has co-authored more than 130 peer-reviewed papers many of which demonstrate his interest and commitment to improving service quality for those with a visual impairment. Central to this has been his role since 2014 in coordinating CVI certification in Northern Ireland.  In 2017, he was awarded an American Academy of Optometry Low Vision Research Diploma. He has also been honoured with an honory lifetime Fellowship by the College of Optometrists. In 2022 he was appointed as the Director of the Northern Ireland Clinical Research Network.

Gwyn S. Williams MBBS FRCOphth, MSc (Med Ed), Ophthalmologist Swansea Bay University Health Board

Gwyn Williams is a Consultant Ophthalmologist at Singleton Hospital in Swansea and honorary associate Professor at Swansea University, having previously been Llywydd of the RCOphth in Wales and clinical lead for ophthalmology. He is passionate about revamping eyecare in Wales, which is why he stood as the Parliamentary Candidate for Plaid Cymru in Swansea West with the tagline ‘putting the i in Plaid.’ He likes reading writing and hiking and whilst this biography was written before the election and the result is unknown, he will continue to fight for eyecare whatever the result!

Sponsor: Thank you to Macular Society for sponsoring this workshop.

Manage stress and burnout, to boost resilience and wellbeing in the workplace

Come along to learn powerful evidence-based mindful tools and practices to help you manage stress, avoid burnout, whilst increasing your resilience and well-being at work. You’ll learn practices you can immediately start using, both in your professional and personal life, to create positive and meaningful change for yourself and your team.

You’ll learn about the benefits of mindful approaches in the workplace. You’ll also be able to try a range of meditations and micro practices to provide extra support, energy or relief when you need it, and hear ways to integrate mindful approaches into everyday working life.

The tools shared will be secular, trauma sensitive, neurodiversity informed and adapted to the workplace, so they are inclusive, supportive, and welcoming for all. This session is suitable for beginners as well as people with previous mindfulness experience.

Audience: All

Geography: UK wide

Karen Janes, Director, The KJ Way

With 20 years of experience in leadership roles in the charity sector, Karen Janes is now on a mission to transform the way we work – from the inside out!

Through The KJ way, Karen helps organisations to build sustainable and flourishing workplace cultures that meet their business goals. She teaches powerful brain-based tools that people can seamlessly integrate into their working day and across organisational culture helping them to manage stress, build resilience, and improve focus and effectiveness.

This translates into high performing, engaged and resilient teams, committed to the success of your business. The KJ Way takes care of your people so they can take care of your business.

Making Health Accessible

Blind and partially sighted people are entitled to the best possible outcomes when using health and care services. However, significant inequities exist across these services.

From getting communications in the wrong format to visiting clinics that are impossible to navigate and staff that haven’t had vision impairment awareness training, there is much to do the create equity.

This workshop draws on practical experience of working with sector partners, the NHS and care providers to showcase examples of what can be done to make health and care services accessible and fit for purpose.

You’ll also hear from Visionary members about what they are doing locally to make health and care services more accessible.

Audience: All, particularly colleagues involved in health promotion projects or advocacy/advice services.

Geography: UK wide, but with an emphasis on England

Eamonn Dunne, Partnerships & Projects Development Manager, Thomas Pocklington Trust

Eamonn has worked for Thomas Pocklington for 8 years and is their health lead. He is committed to ensuring health and care services are provided on an equitable basis for blind and partially sighted people.

Mark Belcher, Head of Enablement, Henshaws

Mark has worked at Henshaws for 17 years and has a wealth of experience of developing innovative solutions to improve the lives of blind and partially sighted people.

Boccia: The sport for all (practical session)

Boccia is a target sport played from a seated position. It can be played on any type of surface in any sized facility with very minimal equipment. Boccia is a sport that adapts to the person so can be a lifelong activity and is ideal for mixed ability groups. The aim of this workshop is to show the inclusivity of Boccia and the fun that can be had through practical involvement, focusing on the adaptability to individual players and venues.  For sighted people attending, we have simulation specs allowing them to play with a temporary visual impairment if they wish.

Support and resources are already available across the UK through Scottish Disability Sport, Disability Sport Wales, Disability Sport Northern Ireland and Boccia England.

Audience: All

Geography: UK wide

Judith Crawford, Sporting and Partnerships Worker, Sight Scotland Veterans

Judith looks to engage visually impaired veterans in physical activities. Judith introduced Boccia across Sight Scotland Veterans (and Sight Scotland) as a way of an inclusive activity that could be easily delivered on any scale across the country.

Alison Shaw, Education & Learning Manager, Scottish Disability Sport

Alison works with people with a wide range of disabilities. Scottish Disability Sport as the Governing Body for Boccia in Scotland supports communities through training courses, sourcing equipment and hosting events.

Vision Partnership:  Political influencing, collaborating for change

The July 2024 General Election brought about changes in government and local representation.  As a sector it is crucial that we understand the new landscape, adapt our influencing strategies, and collaborate accordingly.

During this workshop, delegates will delve into the intricate world of political advocacy, exploring effective techniques to engage with the post-election government and local Members of Parliament (MPs). Our facilitators will provide valuable insights and practical tools to help you navigate the complexities of policymaking and decision-making processes.

Through interactive sessions and case studies, participants will learn how to craft compelling narratives. Delegates will also learn how to produce accessible campaigns and leverage various channels to amplify their voices to drive positive change for the blind and partially sighted community.

Key topics covered in the workshop include:

  • Understanding the post-election political landscape and its implications for advocacy efforts.
  • Developing strategies for influencing government officials and local MPs, with consideration for country and regional differences.
  • Building strategic partnerships and collaborations for greater impact.

Audience: All

Geography: UK wide

Eleanor Briggs, Head of Policy, Public Affairs and Campaigns, Guide Dogs UK

Eleanor Briggs joined Guide Dogs this year as Head of Policy, Public Affairs and Campaigns. She has more than twenty years’ experience in campaigning, working in the children’s sector and disability organisations including Action for Children, the National AIDS Trust and Turning Point. She began her career in the civil service working on equality and diversity policy.

Sophie Dodgeon, Head of Policy and Public Affairs, RNIB

Sophie Dodgeon has worked in charity campaigning for more than 20 years, including heading up campaigning for international development charity CAFOD, and establishing a policy and public affairs function for Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity. Sophie joined RNIB in 2021 and is currently the Interim Head of Policy and Public Affairs.

Helen Wheatley, Head of Operational Services and Development, Blind Veterans UK

Helen Wheatley has worked in policy and partnership development for more than 20 years including as Assistant Director at the Council for Disabled Children leading on transition to adulthood, championing participation and working on regulatory changes. Helen joined Blind Veterans UK in 2016 and works as Head of Operational Service and Development for northern England, Scotland and Northern Ireland managing staff teams and leading on service development.

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