Local resident Lorna Paterson first began helping others to learn sign language during lockdown. This month, she launches a monthly group at Wanstead Library to help more people communicate
I bumped into a neighbour at the supermarket during the first lockdown in March 2020. Unable to communicate, we gazed helplessly into each other’s eyes. The neighbour, who has impaired hearing, was unable to read my lips because we were both wearing masks.
I’m a hearing person with British Sign Language (BSL) Level Two. My neighbour suffered hearing loss in later life and has had no opportunity to learn how to sign. Sadly, I was unable to use BSL to chat with her. That was when I decided to seek ways to share my skills with other Wanstead residents.
In a post on the Wanstead Community Hub Facebook group, and via an article in this magazine, I asked if anyone was interested in learning some common BSL signs. More than 30 people responded.
While the pandemic ran its course, it proved to be difficult to arrange for small groups to meet in person to share and practise basic BSL. However, several people met with me on Zoom once a week to learn finger-spelling and share conversational signs: weather, family information, numbers and time. Over Christmas 2020, I took part in a signing choir at the Romford Festival and shared the carols we signed with the Zoom group.
The deaf community is proud and independent, but for many people, the experience of hearing loss is 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 happens in later life, when it takes longer to learn new ways to communicate.
I have lived in Wanstead for 40 years. Until I chose to retire early, I was head of English in a high school in Waltham Forest. Now I’m employed by a Department for Education approved tuition agency as an academic support tutor for university students with disabilities. As a qualified teacher, in theory, I’m qualified to teach BSL Level One, but I don’t intend to run formal lessons. I am equally as keen to keep my own signing skills up to date as I am to help others to acquire them. BSL Wanstead is all about sharing.
Wanstead Library has kindly agreed to reserve a space for BSL Wanstead to meet from early October onwards. Initially, these meetings will take place once a month on a weekday afternoon, but I hope as the project develops, there will be opportunities to meet in the evening as well. All BSL Wanstead activities are completely free.
The BSL Wanstead project welcomes anyone interested in learning, sharing and practising conversational BSL. If you would like to take part, please do get in touch.
For more information and to contact Lorna, visit patersonloarn.co.uk