Signs of the times

Paterson-Loarn-by-Geoff-Wilkinson© Geoff Wilkinson

Local resident Lorna Paterson is establishing a series of sign language bubbles in Wanstead to help people learn – and share – the skills for this important form of communication

Last month, I bumped into my neighbour at the supermarket. Usually, when we meet we have a chat, but this time we gazed helplessly into each other’s eyes, totally unable to communicate.

My neighbour, who is hearing impaired, was unable to read my lips because we were both wearing masks. She suffered hearing loss in later life and has never had an opportunity to learn how to sign, so my qualification in British Sign Language (BSL) was of no use to us.

This made me think of how good it would be if more people knew some common signed phrases. In a post on the Wanstead Community Hub on Facebook, I asked if anyone would like to learn a little BSL. Over 30 people responded, and at the time of writing, six of them have signed up to take part in the Wanstead BSL Project.

The deaf community is proud and independent, but for many people, the experience of hearing loss can be isolating. Children born with hearing impairments benefit from the amazing ‘deaf tech’ now available, but they also need community support. Loss of hearing is especially troublesome if it comes on in later life when it is more difficult to learn new ways to communicate.

Although, in theory, I am qualified to teach BSL Level One, I will not be running formal lessons. This project will be all about sharing and ‘cascading’ skills. Of course, it must also be Covid-secure. Here is the model I suggest. I hope it will result in a chain of ‘BSL bubbles’ cascading knowledge.

Firstly, I can meet five other people, outdoors and socially distanced, for one hour a week, to share basic information. This will be our basic bubble. Then, the five who have been with me in the basic bubble can each form a new Covid-secure bubble, with up to five other people at a time, to share what they have learned. Groups can form their own bubble of up to five to welcome a leader from the basic bubble.

If you are going to let me teach you this important form of communication, then you should probably know a bit more about me. I have lived in Wanstead for 40 years. I was Head of English in a high school in Waltham Forest until I chose to retire early. Now, I’m employed part-time, by a DFE-approved tuition agency, to support hearing impaired university students. I passed BSL Level Two last June at Havering Community College. I am not yet a fluent signer.

If you would like to take part in the Wanstead BSL Project, please get in touch. Let me know if you have any previous experience of using BSL or if you have any special reason for wishing to learn it. This information will be very useful in forming BSL bubbles.

For more information, email editor@wnstd.com or call 020 8819 6645