Establishing Sight Loss Councils in Scotland

Sight Scotland’s new engagement manager, Callum Lancashire, is bringing Sight Loss Councils to the country for the first time. OT  found out how he is putting accessibility at the centre of his plans

Callum Lancashire has red hair and a beard and is smiling at the camera against a turquoise background. He is wearing a navy blue jumper
Sight Scotland

Callum Lancashire, engagement manager for Sight Scotland, started his role in January 2024 with a clear brief: to bring Sight Loss Councils, which already exist in England, north of the border.

OT spoke to him about the value of Sight Loss Councils, the recruitment of blind and partially sighted volunteers, and why lived experience is such an attribute in those working for greater inclusivity.

Could you explain what Sight Loss Councils are, for anyone who hasn’t come across them?

Sight Loss Councils are groups, led by blind and partially sighted volunteers, using lived experience to tackle local and national issues, to progress accessibility and equality across Scotland. We really want to push for everybody to have the best experience, and get every opportunity that is possible.

Sight Loss Councils are facilitated by the Thomas Pockington Trust, Sight Scotland, Sight Scotland Veterans, and Visibility Scotland


How many Sight Loss Councils are you launching, and in what kind of timeframe?

Our goal at the moment is to develop our Sight Loss Councils across the central belt of Scotland. My aim is to get that set up and strong. We’re going to use it as a satellite Council, so people in different cities and council districts can come together. By the end of 2024, we're looking for it to be city-specific across the central belt.

In 2025, we’ll move down to Dumfries and Galloway to broaden the reach down there, and hopefully further around Scotland.

Do you have policy asks or key things that you’re going to be working on straight away, or will that come later?

At this stage, we’re still recruiting members, and we have had quite a lot of interest. We’ve been doing interviews with potential members, who are going to start very soon.

Realistically, there is loads that I would love to do personally, as a visually impaired person, but it’s not down to me. It’s what the members see as the problems. We need to see what the public are saying. We’re going to do some consultation work. Overall, we're looking at transport, health, street safety, and health, wellbeing and leisure. They are the main things that we’re looking to address.

Do you expect cost of living to also be a key factor in your work?

We’d ideally like to tie in with that, and also education and employment. I think these are big areas that we need to discuss further. We’ve had a lot of interest from working-age volunteers, which is really positive. There are a lot of people who are maybe struggling to get jobs and have issues around that. I think that there’s so much we can do to bring workplaces into this accessible age that we’re in now, and create and develop jobs for those with visual impairments.

There’s so much we can do to bring workplaces into this accessible age that we’re in now, and create and develop jobs for those with visual impairments


Sight Loss Councils already exist in England, but there may be different challenges in Scotland. Are you working with the Sight Loss Councils in England, or taking any lessons from them?

Yes, absolutely. There are so many Sight Loss Councils, with so much knowledge. I’ve been in an incredibly grateful position, where I’ve had a lot of support from the team in England, reaching out with their engagement managers. They have been sharing advice, tips and tricks to help me.

There are a lot of issues that are the same, but the way that we have to go around them is different. Looking at healthcare, for example, and hospitals in England, they’re all very similar to each other, across the different councils. However, in Scotland, our NHS runs a little bit differently. It’s how we move around that, and how we tailor it to Scotland. We’re finding all these things out, which is great, and we’re really setting that template for moving forward.

How many members are you hoping to recruit over the next few months?

We’re setting up one Sight Loss Council across the central belt to begin with, and at the moment we’ve got interest from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Falkirk, Stirling – different places. Ideally, we’re looking for 10 members to begin with.

As we develop Sight Loss Councils and make them either council or city-specific, each council should be around 10 members, with a little bit of give either way, depending on where it is, and the amount of people there. We would like these councils to be all over Scotland.

We would like these councils to be all over Scotland


How important is it to have lived experience of sight loss when you’re doing this kind of work?

It’s massive. I’ve had a visual impairment since I was 15. To this day, if I’m speaking to a family member or a friend who is sighted, as much as I can explain what it’s like and how I feel with my vision loss, and what my vision loss looks like, and as much as they want to understand, they just don't understand. Others with visual impairments do understand, and we can relate to each other.

I’ve got macular degeneration, so I understand it a lot and I can really connect with someone with the same condition. However, in my previous role, I worked with lots of different visual impairments, and I’m never going to kid myself that I understand what someone else’s vision is like. Nor do they know what mine is like. It’s really important to look at different visions and how that affects that person specifically.

I feel like I do have quite a wide understanding with vision loss. Going through it myself, knowing how it feels and the isolation, stress and the worries that you have, I’m able to use that. With tricky situations that I’ve been in throughout my life, it’s really easy for me to speak to someone else with a visual impairment who has maybe gone through the same thing. We have a better understanding than someone who is sighted. When we do look at these issues, I’m able to relate on a different scale to someone who is sighted. Realistically, we can outline the problems much more quickly than someone with sight can. We can make it more accessible for us and guide people in the right way, because we have the knowledge and the lived experience.

What are your thoughts on accessibility issues for blind and partially sighted people getting into work?

From a personal perspective, I hid my vision loss for a long time. I didn’t come to terms with things for a very, very long time. I never told employers, because I was worried that that would impact my job and how I managed. I’ve had a couple of struggles with work throughout the years. But now, because I have really embraced my visual impairment and my understanding of everything, I do think there’s so much out there that people don’t realise they can do. I can completely understand how off putting and scary it can be to get into the workplace.

Because I have really embraced my visual impairment and my understanding of everything, I do think there’s so much out there that people don’t realise they can do


Also, I think employers might not always have the best understanding of how people need support. I think, in terms of access to work and support, a lot of employers think, ‘Oh, I’m going have to buy this, this, this and this.’ Actually, there’s support out there for that, and there are ways that you can help people. Just having an honest conversation with someone with disabilities is massive and makes a huge difference.

There are lots of areas of work that I feel people with visual impairments can thrive in. I don’t think anybody should be told they don’t have to work or have that issue, personally. It’s really something that I’d like to push, and hopefully something the Sight Loss Councils move forward with, and we can get in touch with employers and create accessibility for everybody.

I think there is a public perception aspect to it too, which ties into employers and businesses not understanding the qualities that people with disabilities can bring, and not understanding that there are different levels of sight loss – you can be registered blind, and you can still do a job.

Vision loss as a whole is maybe not understood as well as it could be. I think a lot of people get quite worried – when someone says ‘vision loss,’ or if they see someone with a cane, they automatically think that they can’t see anything. That’s not the case all the time. Sometimes people may not see a lot, but there are always ways around these things. There are loads of things that we can do to support that.

For me, Sight Loss Councils are about building relationships, moving forward, and creating accessibility and inclusivity for the blind and partially sighted community. However, I do want it to reach the sighted community as well. People need to know that we are all normal people, we can still do things, and you can just make things a little bit easier for us.

What would you say to someone who doesn’t have a visual impairment, but is interested in this space? Is there anything they can do to help with the Sight Loss Councils?

To be a member, and to volunteer for Sight Loss Councils, you need to be blind or partially sighted. That’s a big aspect of the volunteer role. But if you are sighted, there are lots of charities out there that you can be guided to, that you can provide with support to help people, whether it’s befriending, doing guided tours – lots of different things.

If people want to be more involved in terms of accessibility or making things better for others, it would be great if they could get in touch with Sight Loss Councils. We can come to places of work, businesses or venues. We can go through it all with them, so they can then start to make things more accessible and bring forward that volunteering aspect.

Is there anything else that you wanted to add that I haven’t asked about?

If I wasn’t in this role, I would be very interested to join Sight Loss Councils, because I think what they’re about is phenomenal. Specifically in Scotland, this is something that should have happened a long time ago. A lot of people can be nervous or have a lack of confidence, and I totally appreciate that. But this is the time where we can really make our voices heard, and change things for the better for the visually impaired community in Scotland.