Julie Atkinson is Chief Officer at Sight Support Ryedale, an independent charity offering support to visually impaired people living in Ryedale.
Q What is your background?
I was born and brought up in Teesside. We moved to Pickering in 1993 with our 3 children. I worked for North Yorkshire Library Service for 21 years, moving around all of the libraries in Ryedale. My most enjoyable role was as a Children and Young People’s Librarian. Supporting children, and young adults as they developed a love of books and good reading habits was very rewarding.
Q When did you get involved with Sight Support Ryedale, where are you based and what does your role entail?
Whilst working at Pickering Library I supported the Sight Support Ryedale visually impaired reading group where I learned how each of the group’s members had adapted to living with sight loss, especially as my mum had just been diagnosed with Macular Degeneration. In 2015 Sight Support Ryedale was looking for a new Chief Officer and I was looking for a change of career. I applied and got the job! I manage the delivery of our emotional, practical and social support services and I am responsible for raising the finances to support the costs of the charity as a whole. However, my connection to the library service remains; in 2017 Sight Support Ryedale relocated to a newly converted, fully accessible office in Norton Library.
Q What does Sight Support Ryedale provide for the Ryedale area? Describe some of the services and activities that you offer.
We support people who are living with any degree of sight loss to remain independent and socially active within their community. We believe that no one should be excluded due to their disability therefore we also campaign for the rights of sight-impaired people living in Ryedale. We have a range of activity groups such as crafting, gentle exercise and fortnightly social groups. We offer a walking group and excursions in the summer and occasional shopping trips to larger towns. All our activities are fully supported by our wonderful volunteers.
Q How many people rely on the service and support given by the Charity?
There are around 200 people who receive our support at the moment. Not everyone needs us all of the time, but we are always here when they do.
Q Does the Charity receive grants or funding? If not, how do you raise money to run the Charity and how can the general public get involved to support the work the charity does?
We are a self-funded organisation—we do not receive any statutory funding from local or national governments. We apply to grant-making trusts, foundations, and for local authority small grants to fund our work. We also rely on donations from the public and proceeds from our local fundraising activities, such as raffles and tombolas. We are always delighted to hear from any local groups who are willing to raise money for us at a local event and we welcome regular or one-off donations from members of the public. Donations can be made via our website:
www.sightsupportryedale.org or by contacting us directly on 01653 698860 or email
email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Q Tell us more about the charity’s involvement with Ryedale Charities Together?
We have been a member of Ryedale Charities Together since its inception in 2000. We are a group of local charities that deliver a diverse range of essential services to people in need within Ryedale.
Working in partnership, we aim to address the problems of isolation and disadvantage in Ryedale by providing ongoing support, information, advice and opportunities. We meet regularly to provide mutual support and organise local fundraising events and initiatives.
Q How has the charity survived the pandemic and what were the main challenges?
In March 2020, we offered a telephone support service that was responsive to the individual needs of our sight-impaired members. Our staff and volunteers delivered shopping & prescription medication, hot meals and audiobooks. Our volunteers maintained social contact with our members to reduce loneliness and we even helped with dog walking and vet trips. One of our main challenges was that Ryedale is a large area to cover. We overcame this by partnering with local Covid support groups, which were formed, to support our local communities.
Q What’s your proudest moment?
Raising sufficient funds to provide the support services needed to survive the pandemic! Our staff, trustees and volunteers rose to this unprecedented challenge and went above and beyond to ensure our sight-impaired members stayed safe and that their needs were addressed. I am so proud to be part of such a caring group of people.
Q Do you have any events planned for 2022?
I would love to say ‘yes’ but due to the current uncertainty around Covid and the recent new variant, we are being very cautious about delivering any events just yet. However, Sight Support Ryedale is still here to offer support by telephone and in-person where possible. As soon as it is safe to bring our sight-impaired members together again, you can be sure that cake will be involved and lots of it!
Q What does the future hold for Sight Support Ryedale?
In December, we were successful in obtaining a grant from the National Lottery, for £136,000. This funding will allow us to continue to provide support to sight impaired people for the next two years and will support the delivery of services in the most rural areas of Ryedale.
Q Owl or Lark?
Q What did you want to be when you grew up?
An air hostess—it seemed like such a glamorous job
Q If you could only have one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Risotto, because I would be able to add different herbs and spices to vary the flavour
Q Any hobbies?
I started to sew 2 years ago. Recently I’ve been making bags and bowl cosies which I sell to raise funds for Sight Support Ryedale
Q Who would you have at a dinner party and why?
Olivia Colman. I think she is an amazing actress. She played the Queen in ‘The Crown’ so to make the party more interesting, I would invite the (real) Queen too! What an amazing conversation that would be!
Q Favourite holiday destination and why?
The islands of Skiathos & Skopelos, Greece. The islands are so tranquil and the islanders are so friendly. It’s the place that I feel the most relaxed.
Q Who is your biggest inspiration?
Different people have inspired me in different ways throughout my life, however, in the world of sight loss, it has to be our chair of trustees, Ann, who has been blind from birth.
Q What have you missed and what have you enjoyed during the pandemic?
My husband and I love live music, especially in large stadium venues so we missed not being able to go to concerts. I enjoyed spending more time with my husband and two of our adult children who were isolating with us and in January, we re-homed a Siamese kitten called Barney. He has given us so much love, fun, and laughter during a very strange time.
Q I couldn’t get through the weekend without…
My sewing machine and a piece of beautiful fabric.