British Sign Language users reach new heights

On the day that a sign language interpreter was used at a Scottish Council meeting for the first time, Lossiemouth based youth charity, Outfit Moray ran a taster session for deaf families and took a group of young BSL (British Sign Language) users from Moray rock climbing.

On Tuesday, while the Moray Council’s Communities Committee was busy debating the Council’s new BSL Plan, the outdoor learning and adventure charity was kitting out their group with their harnesses and helmets and heading out to Cummingston. There the young people spent the day rock climbing and abseiling with Outfit Moray Outdoor Instructors Chris, David and Gemma. Having just joined the charity, this was Gemma’s first outdoor activity with Outfit Moray and the perfect opportunity for her to use her own BSL skills.

Heather Johnston, of Moray BSL says, “I reached out to Outfit Moray at the end of last year to ask if they were able to provide adventure activities for deaf families: deaf children, children of deaf adults, and siblings of deaf children. It has been suggested there are around 250 young people in Moray who could potentially meet the criteria and it’s a group that is not currently being ‘targeted’ for activities together”.

One of Outfit Moray’s values is never to exclude anyone so, following Heather’s approach, they began to speak to local pupils taking part in the YPI (Young Philanthropy Initiative); in March, they were successful in winning over £250 through the Moray Soup initiative. This kick-started their fundraising for this and enabled them to run their highly successful taster session on Tuesday.

Outfit Moray CEO, Tony Brown, explains, “The taster session was all about bringing young BSL users together, giving them the opportunity to communicate with their peers and taking part in an adventurous outdoor activity, to find out if this was something they would benefit from on a regular basis.

“Firstly, we had to contact Moray’s deaf families, so we reached out to all the schools’ Guidance Departments, the Sensory Education Service, Quarriers and North East Sensory Services, for guidance, although we are aware we have only really scraped the surface for this first session.”

Keith Grammar School pupil, Beth Croft said, “I was totally over the moon with this experience and can’t thank Outfit Moray enough.  It was great to be able to meet someone for the first time and hold a conversation using BSL. I normally only sign with my Mum, so it was really different to sign with someone my own age and chat about our kind of stuff! My brother and I can’t wait to come back and meet more young people who use BSL; today definitely helped us feel more confident about signing outside of our family.”

Cllr Theresa Coull commented, “Tuesday was a first for local authorities when Moray Council had a meeting which was signed throughout by two BSL interpreters.  Another first today was Outfit Moray’s taster session bringing the deaf community together; deaf adults and their children, deaf children, along with siblings and children of deaf adults were able to engage in various activities and meet with others like themselves. This was a great opportunity for them to be able to talk and share their problems and experiences as sometimes they can feel very isolated.  Outfit Moray is a charity and is very dependent on donations to be able to achieve this service which will be of great benefit to the users.”

Hopefully, by the time the Council approve their BSL Plan, bringing them into compliance with the BSL (Scotland) Act 2015, Outfit Moray will have the funding to provide outdoor activities to deaf families on a regular basis.

If you would like to learn more about Outfit Moray and their outdoor learning and adventure activities with vulnerable and disadvantaged young people across Moray, visit their website on www.outfitmoray.com or email [email protected] to go on their mailing list.

The Moray Council’s draft BSL plan can be found here. It will also be discussed at two drop-in sessions at the North East Sensory Services offices (Elizabeth House, 10 Victoria Crescent, Elgin) on Wednesday 4 July from 7 to 9pm, and on Saturday 28 July from 1 to 4pm.

A BSL interpreter will also be at these events; if additional support for tactile interpretation or other needs is required, please contact Don Toonen on 01343 563321, or text/email at 07812969115/ [email protected]