Wednesday 29 August 2018

Living Paintings - bringing stories alive

I’ve always loved discovering “book charities” who work to share the benefits and joy of reading with people who would otherwise miss out. Not everyone has easy access to books and reading. There are as many reasons for this as there are situations in which people find themselves.

My mother loved books, but from the age of about 65 her sight began to deteriorate. Most of us would find this a source of huge frustration and annoyance, particularly if one of your favourite pastimes is reading. My father spent time every day reading aloud to my mother so that she didn’t miss out on her favourite authors, books or newspapers. She also signed up to a listening book library who delivered audio books to the house.

But what can it be like for children who have lived with sight loss their entire lives or who lose most of their sight after an illness or accident?

Living Paintings – books for the blind,  create the most amazing tactile and audio books.  They go beyond recordings of favourite or bestselling stories. Their team of talented and dedicated creators make tactile books and items that accompany the audios so that listeners can feel and sense the world of the characters or story.

Back in 1989 the idea had been the brainchild of Alison Oldland MBE, formerly a lecturer in Art History.  After adopting a rejected trainee guide dog she gave a lecture to raise money for Guide Dogs for the Blind. The then Head of Appeals for the charity attended and made a special request: could she record descriptions of works of art for him? This seemed like such a novel idea to Alison as she realised that blind people valued and got a lot out of enjoying pictures. She was inspired to do more and came up with the idea of Living Paintings.

With feedback from blind and partially sighted people she set up a registered charity that would make  accompanying relief images for audio tracks or pages of a story. Living Paintings was born and began creating beautiful Touch and See children’s books (as well as the books for adults) – thus opening up the wonderful world of stories for children who were blind or partially sighted in a new and unique way.
Alison received awards for her brilliant work including an M.B.E in 1997. She died in 2008 but her charity is still going strong along with her ethos and goal to “break down the barriers in a sighted world”.
Those with sight loss “see” through touch in a way the rest of us do not. Living Paintings enables children to explore and discover stories in a tactile and exciting way using this heightened sense and ability. Such books mean these children can enjoy sharing stories –and story times are  important for social, communication and emotional development. The books and products are available to any family, school etc in the UK and members can borrow braille versions as well as tactile accompanied books and audios. Take a look

All children should have access to the benefits, fun and educational value of stories and books. The wonderful Living Paintings makes this possible for many who would otherwise be excluded or find themselves with limited access.
Official site:
Photos © Living Paintings website, with their permission.

Hilary Hawkes


Dianne Hofmeyr said...

What a fascinating post Hilary. And yes I've had some of my novels translated into braille in South Africa.
But Living Paintings is so much more suitable for making a picture book come alive for younger children. What an amazing concept. I used to be a potter and often asked children to build clay models with their eyes shut. In the book 'For All the Light You Cannot See' the father makes a model for his blind daughter of the neighbourhood where they live. A lovely uplifting post!

Joan Lennon said...

This is so creative - thanks for this, Hilary!

Hilary Hawkes said...

What a good idea with the model building, Dianne :)

Hilary Hawkes said...

Joan, yes I agree, they're inspiring and wonderfully creative.

Sue Purkiss said...

This is wonderful - such an inventive idea. I’d never heard of it before. Thank you, Hilary.