Poppies for the Somme

Some of you may wonder why what happened in a field in rural France 100 years ago is relevant today?

I would argue that in fact the Somme commemorations are very “of the moment”….

As we are about to vote on our country’s future in the E.U. I would ask you to take a moment to remember those involved in one of the bloodiest conflicts of WWI. For five months the British and French armies engaged the Germans in a brutal battle of attrition on a 15-mile front.   19,240 British soldiers lost their lives in the first day alone (with a total loss of some 60,000 lives).  The final death toll was reported as 420,000 for the British, 200,000 for the French and the Germans losing 500,000.

So, whether you choose the “in” or “out” option on your ballot paper, please do exercise your right to vote – people died to preserve it.

To very little fanfare, on 28th September 2015 the Department for Culture, Media & Sport opened a ballot to the UK public for the opportunity to attend the 100th Anniversary Commemorations to be held at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Thiepval Memorial in Northern France. We come from Forces families; in our house these things matter. We entered this ballot with little hope that we would be successful – to our amazement we were and two places, together with a whole host of security arrangements and instructions for the day were delivered via e-mail.  Since January there has been much planning of travel arrangements in the Turner household.  The appropriate wreath and commemorative pins have been duly ordered and received from the Royal British Legion and we are feeling very honoured to be part of this event on 1st July.

The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and unveiled in 1932 is one of the main focal points for remembrance in the Somme and every year on 1st July a commemorative service is held there in remembrance of those who fought and died during the Battle of the Somme.  However, this year, the British and French Governments will jointly host a significantly larger event.  10,000 people are expected to attend this moving commemoration, with many dignitaries including Heads of State and senior members of the Royal Family showing their respect alongside invited members of the general public (us included).  The ceremony will also be shown on large screens in several towns (Amiens, Albert and Arras) so those unable to obtain tickets can also participate.

With so much of the Press dedicating stories to the EU Referendum at present, this important event has remained largely unpublicised in the media. However, without the sacrifices made in both world wars, we may not even have the opportunity to vote in a Referendum at all.  Now that is food for thought indeed….

Today is the last day you can register to vote in the Referendum. Having read this, I hope you too decide to exercise your vote.

As an aside, there is a very interesting article published by the BBC about the untold stories of deaf people in WW1 – take a peak!



Somme Poppies



The Deaf Olympics

We are in an Olympic year! London 2012 was amongst the most successful Games on record on many levels and our medal winning athletes – both able-bodied and disabled – are looking forward to more success in Brazil.

So, what about the Deaflympics?

Looking at the Deaflympics website, the first games were in Paris in 1924, with the first winter Deaflympics being held in Seefeld in 1949. The Deaflympics are recognised by the International Olympic Committee in their own right, and are separate from the more widely publicised Paralympics.  Honestly, how many of you reading this were even aware of the Deaflympics?  After 2012 our Paralympians are household names – can you name a successful deaf athlete?

Therein lies the rub – if you are a deaf athlete, you do not have a visible disability. You do not fall into the categorisations for the Paralympic Games.  You have a choice of attending the Deaflympics, attending the Paralympics if you have another categorised (and therefore predominantly visible) disability or competing against the world class athletes in the Olympic Games.

What is your comfort zone as an athlete? In any predominantly hearing environment, interpreting is an issue.  Laurentia Tan, from Singapore, is a successful athlete whose parents pay for her Interpreter support when funding is not available.  She feels it makes “a positive difference to my experience” which in turn must be reflected in her success on the track?  Surely this would be the same for all hearing impaired athletes competing in a hearing world?

There have been stories reported in the Deaf Press before about UK deaf athletes struggling to find sponsorship to attend these events. Why is deafness so “unfashionable” in the sponsorship stakes?  Why do we as a society assume that if there is nothing visibly or tangibly wrong with you, that you do not need the occasional “helping hand” along the road to success?  Where would our other successful athletes – both Olympic and Paralympic – be without Lottery funding, cash from the likes of Nike, Adidas et al?  Once again, the deaf cohort is at the back of the queue when it comes to funding and support….

We are of course unable to answer this question, but we can hazard a guess….

In the charity world, a cute puppy or a sick child have the “ahhhhh” factor – they are used to make a point in a pictorial and appealing way. Points mean prizes!  People are much more likely to put their hands in their pockets to fund something they see as “attractive” and thereby gain some credibility by that association.  It is a visual image that pulls on both the heart strings and the purse strings.   It is the same ethos when trying to attract sponsorship – sponsors want to be attached to a high profile, successful athlete – does it really just boil down to the fact that deafness has no fashion appeal?  It is not a marketable concept in our media driven world?

Just think about the deaf related stories reported in the mainstream press… Largely these will be about a (mostly very cute) baby having it’s cochlear implant switched on and responding to sound (usually a parental voice) for the first time.  A tearjerker for sure, and I do not wish to detract from this.  However, how are the largely unsung wider deaf community who do not necessary have the “cute” ace up their sleeve, supposed to compete with this?


It is just a thought and if anyone has any answers or suggestions in this regard, we would love to hear them…. In the meantime, we wish all our athletes – able bodied, Paralympian and deaf – success in their chosen events in 2016 and 2017.

Travelling to Zambia is not for the faint-hearted!

A member of the D.U. team has just returned from the trip of a lifetime to Africa – her account of the experience is a must-read blog post……

“Do you know how far Zambia is? It is a journey not lightly undertaken, that’s for sure!  6 hours overnight to Dubai, a wait in the airport lounge for the transfer to Lusaka and another 6.5 hours crammed into cattle-class before arriving in the African sun.  If you are dressed for a chilly British Spring day, you will be melting by the time you exit Immigration!

Once through Immigration, and craving some air-con, we plodded into the Arrivals Hall where a large placard bearing our name was proudly being waved by a cheerful soul wearing a huge grin. Our heroine was Mwaka Kaunda, who along with her husband Clement, had come to ferry us to our host’s home. Rush hour compelled us towards the ring road, and despite missing the sights and sounds of the town centre, I was able to drink in the amazing vista that was 5pm Lusaka.

There are no pavements in Lusaka apparently – certainly not on the route we took!  People are quite happy to walk along the side of the main road; health and safety is not an encumbrance in this part of the world!  Bicycles share this pseudo-pavement – one of my abiding memories is of a man carrying a very care-worn goat around his shoulders.  The goat was clearly not impressed by this indignity, nor having it’s feet bound by twine!   Sharing this space is a plethora of wild flowers (or maybe just exotic weeds, but they looked very pretty to me!) a spectacular display in sunshine yellow and orange.  Added to this are roadside market stalls selling everything from charcoal for cooking fires, tomatoes piled high in pyramid form to yams, cassava and other traditional foods.  At the traffic lights, young boys tout mobile phone top up cards – the juxtaposition of the traditional and the up to date that makes modern Africa what it is today.

Some areas we passed appeared up-to-date, with rows of shops, bars and hairdressing salons for the appearance-conscious modern population. Other areas displayed less modern tendencies, with lots of tiny houses, small shops, car repair yards and any number of children running to and fro in between.  We saw odd looking metal structures with the appearance of towers laid end to end, which we later discovered were reservoirs.  Many homes in such areas do not have a piped water supply but rely instead on a borehole and pump water up from under the ground, which in turn is stored in a plastic tank mounted on these structures.

We spent our first five nights in a beautiful, airy and spacious property on the west side of Lusaka.   It was certainly stunning, and a very auspicious way to begin our stay.  Our hosts were happy to assist us in our aim – a series of seminars on outreach Sunday school.  With their help we travelled to a number of churches and gave example lessons and told people about our own Sunday school in the UK.

After our stay in this fabulous home, our hosts kindly volunteered to drive us the 7 hours to Livingstone. There is a coach, apparently, and we also tentatively looked into the train option over the internet before our travels.  However, Zambian trains are hot, slow and most definitely not for the novice!  Every time we mentioned the word “train” to our hosts they looked at us like we needed our heads examining!  So, all in all, the offer of transport was very welcome indeed.  We arrived at a much more traditional style property, sporting thatched rooves on each of the “lodges”.  A kind of African B&B…  We were travel-weary and the order of the day was definitely shower-food-bed!

In the morning, we took the coach transfer to Victoria Falls.  We had been warned that the mist from the Falls could make the surrounding area very wet…. This is in fact an understatement!  Imagine a heavy summer thunderstorm mixed with a torrential downpour with added water from a burst fire hydrant, along with the constant roaring of millions of gallons of water passing over the Falls and you may just get the picture.  The Falls were in full flood, as the rainy season had just ended; the wide Zambezi river flows serenely to the end of a rocky crevasse and then crashes down, tonnes of water every second.  Possibly one of the most awe-inspiring sights and sounds known to Man.  Despite “dressing for the occasion” in very unflattering waterproofs, we inevitably got soaked.  It is unavoidable really – but so worth it!  Once you are back in the sunshine, you soon dry off.  It was sheer pleasure to eat our lunch near what is known locally as the Boiling Pot, at the bottom of the falls.

Tourists are always encouraged to shop, no matter where in the world you are!  There was plenty to choose from and we eventually negotiated our way into one of the small shops, politely insisting we were “looking with our eyes and not our ears” (the browsing equivalent of “don’t call us, we’ll call you”).  It became apparent that buying anything was going to take nerves of steel and a great deal of determination to secure a reasonable price.  We British are not traditionally good at bargaining, and the rest of the World is very aware of this fact.  Despite this, we managed to complete purchases to the satisfaction of all concerned.  Our local friends later confirmed we had made deals fair to all involved, so we were very happy with this conclusion.

We flew back to Lusaka; one hour on a 30-seater plane was preferable to another 7 hour drive notwithstanding the kindness of our lift to Livingstone! This time we took up residence with Mwaka and her family, in a much more modest but family orientated home.  Back to work – more seminars followed.

However, it seemed appropriate to end our African Idyll with a Game Drive. Chaminuka (meaning “a hill”) did not disappoint.  The Reserve is based around a large hotel/lodge in traditional wooden African style, built unsurprisingly on a hill.  We had booked a whole day’s activities for ourselves and our lovely hosts.  The wonders of seeing giraffe, zebras, ostriches, impala, bushbucks and hartebeests in their natural habitat cannot be underestimated.  Oh, and let’s not forget the spitting cobra – although to be fair some may wish to do so!   The Rangers were on hand to answer any questions and their in-depth knowledge of the wildlife enhanced our experience no end.  We finished off with a traditional lunch – buffet style – of nshima (maize meal cooked to a solid mashed potato consistency), chicken, fish and mixed local vegetables.  A post lunch boat trip around the lake was followed by a guided walk through the Bush and the finale was afternoon tea on a cool, breezy veranda.”

It has been raining in London – oh wouldn’t we all love to be watching Zebra in the sunshine?!

Thank you for sharing your experiences Jo – it has been wonderful!

Happy Birthday Ma’am….. Pardon?!

Just like the majority of the UK, we were delighted to be able to wish Her Majesty a very Happy 90th Birthday last week.   Unlike many of us, the Queen gets to celebrate twice – once on her actual birthday in April and once again for the Monarch’s official birthday at the Trooping of the Colour ceremony, which this year is on Saturday 11th June. We are sure the Queen will be delighted to experience the annual festivities for her official birthday – a visual feast accompanied by the wonderful sounds of the Military bands playing at full blast!

Whilst we can find no stories in the Press relating to Her Majesty’s hearing (or indeed lack of it) at the age of 90, there are well documented reports of Prince Philip’s struggles with his hearing. When presented with a pair of ear defenders for his own 90th birthday, the Duke was heard to enquire “can you get Radio 3 on this?”.  We can only imagine the conversation when, aged 93 in 2014, the Duke was fitted with bi-lateral hearing aids – his quick-fire comments and probing questioning are well known!

The Duke’s devices are the most discreet of models, which are apparently available through the NHS. It has been observed that the Duke’s need for hearing assistance is unsurprising at his age, and this is indeed the case.  Over the years it has become apparent to those close to Royal circles that he finds it hard to keep track of conversations and the Queen often has to update him.  Royal spokesmen have declined to comment officially on the grounds that the Duke’s hearing aids are a “medical matter”.

Prince Philip has, until fairly recently, been Patron to Action on Hearing Loss (now replaced by the Duke of York as the nonagenarian Duke of Edinburgh scales back his working commitments) and the charity’s own statistics on Hearing Loss and how it affects our aging population are quite astonishing. Supported by other studies recently undertaken (UCL is another reputable source) it is quite clear that our hearing (or lack of it) is having a profound effect on our lives!

In 2011 there were approximately 10 million people in the UK with some form of hearing loss – that is a staggering 1 in 6 of the population. It is estimated that, as the population ages and the iPod generation continues to abuse their ears with loud music via ear-buds and headphones, this figure will rise to 14.5 million by 2031.

In a recent study of the Nation’s health, older men were shown to be the most likely to suffer with some form of hearing loss.   Half of men over the age of 65 display some form of hearing loss, whilst only 38% of women suffer the same fate.  Hearing loss increases markedly with age.  It affects 14% of people aged 55 – 64, 29 % aged 65 – 74, 55% aged 75 – 84 and 83% aged 85 and over.  To contrast this, approximately 98% of people aged 16 – 24 had good hearing.   The UCL study found that a significant proportion of people were unaware of their hearing loss; nearly one quarter of men (23%) and one in six women (17%) aged 55 or over who reported they had no difficulties hearing actually did suffer from a hearing loss.  Less than a third (31%) of those aged 55 or over with hearing loss use a hearing aid and only a quarter of adults with moderate or worse hearing loss had taken a hearing test in the last year.

The report, co-written by Dr Jennifer Mindell, Reader in Public Health at UCL’s Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, noted that hearing difficulties make conversations difficult, restrict people’s enjoyment of their social and personal life and can make people feel cut off from things. Social isolation is a big problem for both the hearing impaired and the profoundly deaf.  Clearly, such levels of hearing loss are a cause for concern, particularly where people are unaware of their hearing loss and/or do not to wear a hearing aid.

With these stark statistics telling their own story, it is high time we all learned to “love our ears” and take better care of them – we only get one pair and they need to last us a lifetime!

Ready for Christmas?

A couple of years ago we published a blog post entitled “The Calm before the Storm” written by a very smug member of the office team who clearly was too organised for their own good!

Not so organised this year eh?! Said person is in the process of moving house, has left everything to the last minute and is currently doing a very good “headless chicken” routine around the office!  At the very mention of the word “Christmas” the twitching starts and apparently there is not enough Prosecco in the world to see this person through to New Year!

The big move was supposed to take place in the summer, and should have been well out of the way by the Festive Season, but events (and Estate Agents) have conspired and it now looks like a swift exit for the Christmas tree and a fast entry for the removals men and packing boxes – there will be nothing calm about this particular household this Festive Season!

In the midst of planning a move, there are 11 people to feed on Christmas Day, a family visit on Boxing Day and a New Year spent celebrating with friends in Edinburgh – somebody is going to need a miracle; then again, it is the right time of year……

The Deaf Umbrella Team would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year – see you in 2016 folks!

There is no “I” in our Team…



In our last blog post we were dressing (with fingers crossed – not easy!) for success and heading off to the FSB London Business Awards at the Pullman Hotel. There was excitement and anticipation in the air, not to mention a great deal of hairspray, perfume, nail polish and aftershave! We all scrubbed up very nicely, if we do say so ourselves!FSB.006

Nominated in three tough categories … Apprentice of the Year (Charlie Springer), Best New Business (CIC) and Training & Development … We went off to enjoy the evening, proud to be nominated but not necessarily expecting to gain further recognition over and above the nominations themselves.

How wrong can you be?

We are delighted that CIC was nominated – our Work Preparation Programme has only been operating since February and has already gained some tangible successes; placing long term deaf unemployed individuals into jobs. Life changing indeed!

FSB.007Our congratulations go to Charlie! In a hotly contested category he came second and proudly accepted his Runner Up certificate on the night. As for Training and Development – we WON! How proud are we?!

Oh boy did we celebrate that night…. Red, White, Fizz – all were consumed to toast Deaf Umbrella into the early hours. FSB.008FSB.002Unfortunately, the Awards took place on a Thursday night (who planned that?), so Friday was definitely a 2 paracetamol, bacon sandwich, Mars bar, Cola and chips day!   We self-administered every hangover cure in the book! Sunglasses all around and cheering quietly as we got on with the business of the day. Thankfully, Cloud 9 is a warm, fluffy and peaceful place to be…. As a team of consummate professionals, I can confirm the office was staffed, running like clockwork and fully functioning by 9 am Friday morning!

However, celebrations cannot go on for long – success needs to be capitalised upon to drive the business forward. The Awards are wonderful, but our reputation as a company depends upon our professionalism, ability to plan and prepare and to rise effectively to the challenges we meet along the business superhighway. We need to innovate and change in order to meet the various support requests presented by our customers, clients and students. These need to be meshed into the availability of our staff (both existing and new) and the most appropriate member of staff allocated to each booking in order to provide the best levels of support for every customer and client. Throughout the summer we plan and organise for the beginning of the new academic year. September is our busiest month and we need to be as prepared as we possibly can be. It is like undertaking a giant jigsaw – each piece is a course, staff member, customer, client or booking to be filled. Every change of timetable, change of course or new request alters the formation of the jigsaw until eventually the support settles down into a regular pattern. August is the calm before the storm, but we love September!   The satisfaction of the completed jigsaw at the end of all the hard work is immense.

Dress for Success ….

There is an air of anticipation in the office today….

This evening the Deaf Umbrella office staff and invited guests will be descending en masse on the Pullman Hotel, St Pancras, for the 2015 Federation of Small Businesses London Business Awards 2015. We are finalists in 3 categories:

  • Apprentice of the Year – Charlie Springer
  • Best New Business – Deaf Umbrella CIC
  • Training and Development – Deaf Umbrella

We are very proud of ourselves; once again it has been a year of tremendous efforts, change and innovation. Not least, Deaf Umbrella has relocated from Bexley, our home for many years, to the Royal Borough of Greenwich. Moving a business lock, stock and 2 smoking barrels is no mean feat, especially whilst trying to ensure that customer service is not interrupted. We think we deserve an award for this alone!

In order to prepare for this evening, we were kindly driven to work early this morning by our lovely CEO, with

Deaf Umbrella - the instrument of your success!

Deaf Umbrella – the instrument of your success!

all our luggage carefully stowed in the boot of her car.   From approximately 3 pm this afternoon we will be taking it in turns to scoot along to the Travelodge next door, where we have a room booked to allow us to shower, change into our assorted finery and generally ensure we are “awards ready” for tonight. Ladies will be applying makeup, back-combing hair and using any amount of hairspray. Gentlemen will be wondering what all the fuss is about?! In the interim the corporate facilities look like a stock room from an upmarket fashion house, as everyone has hung up their dresses/dinner suits/dress shirts etc… to let the creases drop out! I suspect that by the end of the evening some of the staff may need to be hung up to let the creases drop out!

We will be celebrating in style tonight. Whilst we would love to win (ideally in all 3 categories) we are very aware that it is an honour and an achievement for a business to reach the finals at all. Competition is strong and we wish all the nominees an enjoyable evening and every success (as long as we actually win of course ……)