4Sight Vision Support: New chief executive is a former client and volunteer who has worked tirelessly to help blind and sight impaired people to live life without limits
Having worked her way from patient to chief executive at 4Sight Vision Support, Kirstie Thomas truly has the passion and knowledge to take the West Sussex charity forward as it celebrates its centenary.
Based in Bognor Regis, 4Sight Vision Support covers the whole county, with vision support centres at its head office and in Shoreham, plus a sight care advisor service at St Richard’s Hospital in Chichester and Southlands Hospital.
Clearly, the pandemic has affected the operation and sadly there is a massive backlog in some areas but Kirstie is positive and says the changes the team has had to face through Covid-19 have led to a new way of thinking, in many ways a better approach.
Kirstie, who lives in Lancing, first became involved more than 23 years ago when she was diagnosed with Stargardt Disease at the age of 20. Having been impressed by the support she received and the services the charity had to offer, she started volunteering with the Shoreham fundraising committee.
She was then employed as volunteer co-ordinator in 2009 and increasingly grew her role, gaining invaluable experience and knowledge of sight loss, low vision and the complex needs of blind and sight-impaired people.
Most recently, Kirstie has been the services manager, with overall responsibility for planning, co-ordinating and delivering 4Sight Vision Support’s services for children and adults, before her recent appointment as chief executive.
She said: “It is really exciting to be taking up the new post as we celebrate 100 years of the charity. I feel extremely proud and privileged to have been offered this opportunity and look forward to working with the incredible team here at 4Sight Vision Support to provide the very best standard of tailored support for blind and sight impaired people.”
Macular degeneration is one of the most common conditions among people the charity supports and Kirstie has a genetic form, meaning she has no central vision and no detailed vision. She relies on assistive technology and is always pleased to hear of new innovations the outreach team has discovered to help clients - it is one of the charity’s flagship services.
Dr Norman Boyland, chair of trustees, said: “Along with her own personal experience of sight loss, Kirstie has been a key architect of the strategic development of our services over the years, and her previous management experience, passion, drive and commitment will serve the charity well as we develop our services to meet the future needs of our clients.”
Kirstie said the vision for the future was very much a one-to-one approach with team members focusing on specialisms, and this was something that had come out of the changes brought on by the pandemic.
Sight care advisors are key, providing early intervention to help people once they start to experience sight problems.
Kirstie said: “That was one of the services I first accessed but it was too late for me.”
She explained she had been diagnosed privately and lost her job after her employers found she was no longer able to drive - something the charity could have advised her about had she found the help in time.
Kirstie added: “This really is so important. The advisors act as advocates, they are an emotional crutch and can show people what support they can access.
“People won’t know what is available, so we ask them what they are struggling with and what affects them. Then we can guide them, as there may be so much more support than they are aware of.”
Lockdown restrictions last year forced the charity to halt its face-to-face services but support has continued throughout, just in a different way.
Kirstie said: “A small team made 6,000 calls within the first few months. We were able to give more one-to-one time and that shaped our future plan. There are some real positives because instead of being pulled all different directions, we were able to take our time with people.
“We try to do as much as we can over the phone, and we were able to do some of that very successfully, but for things like assessments and training, there are big waiting lists.
“People have so many other complex needs when there is sight loss, like isolation and lack of confidence. We always want to be there when it matters so people can live their lives without limits and to enable them to continue to do that in any way that suits them.”
The charity also has a role as an educator, giving vision impairment training to help break down barriers.
To celebrate 100 years of 4Sight Vision Support, a charity ball is being held at Hilton Avisford Park in Arundel on Friday, October 29, with a theme of Hollywood glamour. For more information and to book tickets, telephone 01243 838001 or email [email protected]