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'It's humbling to hear that the blind society has saved a life'

When Malcolm Swinburn, chief executive of the South Lincolnshire Blind Society, stepped down after 19 years in April, Susan Swinburn quickly took up the role.

With her wealth of knowledge and experience in the charitable sector, we knew that it wouldn’t long until Susan became part of our inspirational women series.

We caught up with Susan at South Lincolnshire Blind Society on Finkin Street, Grantham, this week.

Susan Swinburn. (13979294)
Susan Swinburn. (13979294)

Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I am the oldest of three children and spent most of my childhood helping my mum care for our disabled father. I completed a number of voluntary sector leadership and management courses over the following years. I volunteered for the NHS and qualified as a substance misuse counsellor, my first proper taste of volunteering which I really enjoyed. A few years later I applied and got the position of volunteer bureau manager on St Catherine’s Road, Grantham.

We later changed our name to Voluntary Action Kesteven (VAK). The more I learned about volunteering and how it helps individuals and benefits the community, the more I was hooked.

How did you become involved in the South Lincs Blind Society?

It was one of the organisation’s that I helped to find volunteers for when I worked at VAK. Malcolm Swinburn was the CEO of the blind society when we met through work in 1999 and we married the following year. When volunteer services were centralised to Boston in 2006, VAK was closed and I was made redundant.The blind society lost both of its volunteer co-ordinators shortly afterwards and I was asked if I would help fill the post for three days a week until they could find someone and I have never left.

Sharen Swain and Susan Swinburn. (13979275)
Sharen Swain and Susan Swinburn. (13979275)

Why is an organisation like the blind society so important?

Voluntary sector provision is vital in any community. It’s the glue that holds the fabric of communities together. They fill vital gaps in local statutory service provision, utilising the skills, energy and passion of volunteers. Our organisation is a preventative service helping to keep people well, stay out of hospital or care homes, and manage their own mental, physical health and well-being. We help people to learn at their own pace to be independent and confident so that they can live well with their sight loss.

Every day we build more on to the legacy left to us by the volunteers who started the charity over a hundred years ago.

What are the challenges?

We receive no statutory funding. When the charity was established, it was primarily for people coming back from the Great War after losing their sight and limbs. Now we support people who have lost their sight through having had an accident, stroke, diabetes, smoking, alcohol abuse, Parkinson’s, genetic conditions and age-related sight loss.

Barry Summerfield and Susan Swinburn. (13979271)
Barry Summerfield and Susan Swinburn. (13979271)

What do you enjoy the most?

Being with the people I work for. Our youngest service user is just two years old and our most senior is 106. It’s incredibly humbling to hear someone tell you that the blind society has saved their life.

What’s next for the society?

After the success of our Grantham’s Got Talent show in St Wulfram’s last year, we

have been asked to do it again. We also have the grand opening of our sensory allotment in August. I am also working with Steve Whotton, owner and personal trainer of SW Fitness in Grantham to establish a fun community event that we will tie in with the Christmas activities in the town.

If you would like to get involved with the blind society, call 01476 592775 or email susans@blind-society.org.uk

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