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Deaf-help bus facing axe

PUBLISHED: 11:14 19 January 2009 | UPDATED: 12:48 03 July 2010

AN outreach bus which provides emotional and practical support for deaf people in rural communities in Norfolk could be axed unless a generous sponsor helps keep it on the road.

AN outreach bus which provides emotional and practical support for deaf people in rural communities in Norfolk could be axed unless a generous sponsor helps keep it on the road.

The Listen Here! bus has made regular visits around the county since its launch in March 2008 and helped almost 2,000 deaf people who would otherwise struggle to fix their hearing aid or get information on lip-reading and sign language classes.

The service, run by the Norfolk Deaf Association, got up and running after it won a public vote for £80,000 from the Big Lottery Fund, which paid for the bus, equipment, volunteer training and two part-time staff for one year.

With the year almost up, the charity is desperate to find a benefactor to stump up £20,000 to continue what it now regards as a vital service to vulnerable and mostly elderly deaf people.

“All the people that we have helped do not have that support if the bus is not there,” said Liz Nobbs, disability access manager for the association.

“They can have their hearing aid checked, they can pick up some more batteries, get it cleaned, pick up advice and find out about befriending groups, anything related to their deafness. We can help people who cannot get to hospitals and clinics.

“These are vulnerable people, about 95pc of the people who have used the bus are elderly and they often have other health issues and just cannot manage these things on their own.”

She added that while the lottery handout was a tremendous boost, the charity cannot apply for funding for a second year - or pay for the bus from its own coffers.

The charity, which like others is struggling during the economic downturn, suffered another blow last weekend when its office in Norwich was broken in to and a laptop stolen, which will have to be replaced.

“The bus is so expensive to run there is just no funding out there and if the worst came to the worst we would have to stop running it by the summer,” she said.

“We don't have enough reserves in the charity to pay for this and the revenue we have got is used for the running costs of our building.”

Listen Here! visits 24 rural venues every month, including Downham Market, Acle, Sheringham, Diss, Mattishall and North Walsham.

Norfolk Deaf Association claims that just 15pc of the 124,000 people with hearing loss in Norfolk receive any support and the need for the bus is compounded by poor rural transport links and long waiting lists at hospitals.

The bus also provides a local support network, encourages involvement in new learning opportunities and relieves some of the pressure on audiology departments.

To offer help to Norfolk Deaf Association, call Ms Nobbs or a member of the team on 01603 404440.


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