Deaf Life27th April 2014

Deaf Day Delight at City Lit

Attending Deaf Day for the first time in 40 years - I had a great time

by Sarah Lawrence

​Deaf for 40 years, I thought it was about time I went to Deaf Day at the City Lit in London. Living in Wales, it wasn’t an easy decision with the travel arrangements and length of the day, so I only booked my train tickets the evening beforehand. Having made the decision, I was looking forward to meeting old friends, and hoping to make a few new ones too!

Setting out early on Saturday morning, there was a slight delay with the first train and the knock on effect meant that I arrived at City Lit around 12pm. It was sunny and outside the building it was bright and colourful with lots of people milling around. My priority was a coffee, so I went for what I thought would be a quick visit to Starbucks first, but unlike any other coffee shop I’ve ever been too, there was about eight different groups chatting away in BSL. I was in heaven!

​With not one familiar face amongst them, I introduced myself to a few of the groups so that they knew I was there and was a BSL user. Sitting there eavesdropping would not have been the right thing to do! Suitably refreshed and already feeling buoyed by the atmosphere, I was ready to face all that Deaf Day had to offer. 

Heading back over to City Lit through Holborn town, I saw lots of people using BSL at all levels. Some were BSL learners making their way to town for lunch before heading back, others were Deaf people arriving who stopped by to catch up with others. What was most noticeable is that there were at least 4 Jehovah’s Witness stands between Holborn tube station and City Lit. I felt this was preying on Deaf people a bit to join them. I am not against them, but why on that particular day and why so many of them. I feel Deaf people can be  vulnerable when they are on their own and they can be very pushy. I pretended I was hearing by holding my mobile phone against my ears while walking to avoid being approached. Thankfully, it worked.

Outside the City Lit building, it was so much bigger and modern than I expected. There were still lots of people hanging outside the building, having a bit of fresh air because it was packed on all 5 floors. Sitting outside finishing my coffee, I took some pictures and it was nice to see a familiar face walking around the corner - Rob Skinner. Sadly, I didn’t see him again for the rest of day as it was absolutely packed in the building. Having been told that the organisers were against people advertising themselves if they hadn’t paid to exhibit, and that I would be thrown out if I was seen giving out a free magazine, I approached the entrance nervously wearing my new SLFirst logoed polo shirt.

When I arrived at the reception, it was quite funny as there were 4 staff busily serving different customers, while one person was sitting on his chair just watching. I asked him for a programme but he could not use BSL which is why he was not busy - quite the reverse role to normal and I'm sure he felt under used. I had to wait a few more minutes before a BSL user was available. I bought a Deaf Day booklet packed with information and contact details that would be useful throughout the day. The lady advised me that stalls were on 4 floors. I thought I would start on the 4th floor and work downwards as I wasn’t there to see anything in particular so wanted to cram in as much as possible.

In keeping with my new exercise regime, I took the stairs avoiding the queues at the lift. Walking up past the 2nd and 3rd floor, I realised I was puffing like mad, but I made it to the 4th floor, although I did feel a little dizzy from rushing up. Calming down, I grabbed some cold water from a machine nearby and marched on. I entered the first room, where I was confronted by the long arm of the law – a Police stall. It was good to see police officers in there who were able to use BSL - some are currently learning level 6 while others level 1. One of the officers was quite fluent and chatting to him left me feeling positive about Hampshire police and their attitude towards officers learning BSL.

Pleased to see signing police officers but keen to escape, I crept into the next room housing Action Deafness books. Here I saw Craig Crowley and 2 authors signing their books. Whilst on that floor I met lots of familiar faces and I was pleased that people took the time to comment about SLFirst and how they love the website and BSL clips. A consistent comment was that the magazine is just what Deaf people need. These comments made me think about why Deaf people were not sharing information, even if they know about it. There were also lots of people who did not know SLFirst and what SLFirst stands for.

UK Deaf Sports were next and it was good to finally meet Clive Breedon after communicating via email and social media. Entering a big room afterwards, in true comedy style, John Smith was sitting near the door teasing everyone who came in, including me. It was good to see lots of familiar faces in that room, Rob and Rachel Wilks were at the back busy passing on information. Frances Elton and Sandra Dowe were lovely to meet and a Deaf Islam group who were giving away small bottles of 'cruelty to animals free' perfume and a DVD.








It was around 1pm before I realised I had another 3 floors to go and not really lots of time left. 

Making my way down to level 3 I bumped into the lovely Tina Lannin from 121 Captions on the staircase carrying cupcakes. She kindly gave me one and we chatted briefly about exercising. I recall Tina doing a run for the hearing dogs last year and asked if she was doing it again. She explained that she doesn't have much time (I can fully empathise with that being a golfer myself - hardly got any time). I also bumped into Matt Gurney who is currently doing some acting and we chatted briefly about an unfortunate event with Sophia Cahill recently.

On the 3rd floor there were not many stalls but big rooms on Art Therapy and Fun Arts and Crafts run by City Lit. They were on lunch so think I arrived at the wrong time. There were still lots of people hanging around in the corridor, lift, stairway areas chatting away. There were more familiar faces but I wanted to see other stalls before it was too late so I found myself pushing my way through like a bull in china shop and I apologise if I knocked anyone over or missed a signed ‘hello’.

Onto the 2nd floor there were more familiar faces including the Signvideo team. Having chatted on social media, I finally met Heidi after almost 18 months after our on-line connection. Sandra Duguid from BSLworks, someone I have known for many years, came into the room. It was good to catch up briefly before checking out 121 and the Deaf Umbrella stall. In the next room I met Richard Carter. For those that don’t know Richard, he is a Deaf poet, performing his poetry using sign language. Some of his BSL poetry is so beautiful and created so cleverly. Good friend Jeff Brattan-Wilson was preparing himself for another articulate talk about RAD and their training. I also met Ai-Live, and it was great to see how their captions work.

Deafinitely Theatre's stall was busy with Shakespeare Global coming up soon and I think lots of Deaf people wanted to ask about it. It was good to see Paula Garfield somewhere in the building. At the Heathlands School stall it was good to meet staff and was told they will be celebrating 40 years next year. I would love to visit Heathlands and see how they have developed over the years.









Moving on to the SignHealth stall, I made some enquiries on behalf of a deaf friend at home and was given some good advice. It was also good to meet Paul Redfern who was explaining BDA's role in collaboration with 5 other organisations on their 'Our Health in your hands' project which gives deaf people a fast track on how to challenge their GP's <>  He explained that there is a lot of neglect within health services for deaf people in general. I could not agree more and hope this project takes off, as it certainly needs sorting.

Descending to the 1st floor and thinking I had already seen every deaf person I had ever met, there were lots more familiar faces, making it hard to get a move on. It was now 3.40pm and already struggling to get round everything, I was told there is another floor, the 5th floor. Having started on the 4th floor I decided to go up there by jumping into the lift quickly before heading back down to level 1. On 5th floor it was much quieter and easier to get around. I saw more familiar deaf-led companies and schools. It was good to meet and catch up with some. At the BSL Zone stall, I asked why there were hardly any Welsh issues on their agenda. They need stories but reminded me it is only a half-hour programme. If anyone can think of a Welsh story that is BSL related please let BSL Zone know.

Meeting the Met London Ambulance Service team I was pleased to find they were able to use BSL just like the police earlier. They were demonstrating to a group of deaf people how to register themselves for EmergencySMS. I left there thinking this was set up at least 3 - 4 years ago and yet there are still lots of deaf people who had not registered. Why haven't key deaf people from deaf clubs, groups, organisations shared this information with others. I checked on the YouTube video about it and there were just 2,834 views. I think this is rather disappointing and it just shows how poor the information sharing can be within the Deaf community especially amongst BSL users.

With my own recent video message on this topic, this just confirmed how low the number of viewers really are in contrast to the 70,000 - 105,000 Deaf BSL users there are across UK. If key people really do care about their community we need to find better ways to share information and let people know what is going on. Some service providers are going out of their way to make improvements, but they are not getting the recognition they deserve.

Rushing back down to the 1st floor with just 15 minutes left I didn't really have much time to chat. My friends at Signworld were very busy dealing with BSL learners as always. At BSL's new awarding body, the Institute of British Sign Language it was good to see Peter Jackson and Alan Sharp chatting with some of the learners. I also managed a brief visit to the British Deaf History Society. I asked about the Manchester Deaf Institute building because it is a listed building. The building itself cannot be altered but it was interesting to see change of use inside with a cafe bar and music called Deaf Club. I thought it was an interesting story in itself.

Onto the ground floor, lots of people were packing up to leave but there were still hundreds more people hanging around outside chatting away. It was good to see lots of BSL going on and I am now looking forward to the next Deaf Events at deafVIBE on the 9th May at Stoke on Trent and the Manchester BSL teachers conference on the 17th May, run by Signworld. I hope to see some of you at Stoke or Manchester or even at both.

Having travelled to London alone, I was pleased that Rob and Rachel Wilks asked if I wanted to share a taxi back to Paddington. Jumping at the chance, I felt I was arriving at Paddington in style. Rob explained that he had ordered the taxi via the Addison Lee app, so it required no verbal communication. It was certainly a deaf friendly service.

Arriving at Paddington with less than an hour spare to the next train, I felt hot and tired so we all popped up to the sloe bar. It is rare for any of us, but we all had an alcoholic drink and chatted about the day. We all enjoyed it. It was Rob's first time without representing a deaf organisation. He felt it was different and enjoyed the new experience. On the train back I paid a little extra to sit in first class and whilst there were free drinks and a small snack, it was not impressive. With the company I had, it was the fastest journey ever - chatting non-stop all the way. We realised we were back in Wales before we even knew it.

I got off at Cardiff and within 10 minutes my home town train arrived. Late on a Saturday evening I was surprised to meet a lady I worked with over 20 years ago. I chatted with her but it was much more difficult that I expected after my full-on BSL day, as she doesn't use BSL. It made me realise how much effort I always put in to communicate with those who do not use BSL. Suddenly, I felt very tired as we pulled in to my home town. Arriving in torrential rain, I got off and walked less than 500 metres to my car, but I was soaked through and arrived home freezing.

Collapsing into my favourite chair and reflecting on a long day, I must say that it was both enjoyable and useful, and it won't be another 40 years before I attend again! Well done City Lit and all the people involved for putting on a great day. Thank you also to all those who chatted with me, and made my day so enjoyable. 

Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Community / Deaf Life

27th April 2014