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Feature: Ilford's Empowering Deaf Society turns 10 next year - have you heard of the charity before?

PUBLISHED: 07:43 15 August 2018 | UPDATED: 09:42 15 August 2018

The Empowering Deaf Society in Ilford holding one of their regular meetings.

The Empowering Deaf Society in Ilford holding one of their regular meetings.

Archant

It is estimated that there are around nine million deaf or hard of hearing people in the UK - and in London there is a huge deaf community, many of which don’t consider deafness as a disability, but as part of their identity.

Recorder reporter Liam Coleman (right) being taught how to sign his name by members of the Empowering Deaf Society.Recorder reporter Liam Coleman (right) being taught how to sign his name by members of the Empowering Deaf Society.

Hundreds of people turned up for the The Empowering Deaf Society’s second Deaf Street Party in Ilford a few weeks ago, and the charity will turn 10 next year - but you might not have heard of the charity before and where it all began.

It is estimated that there are around nine million deaf or hard of hearing people in the UK - and in London there is a huge deaf community, many of which don’t consider deafness as a disability, but as part of their identity.

The Empowering Deaf Society (EDS) is based in Ley Street and has around 2,000 people that benefit from its services each year - which include afterschool clubs, British Sign Language (BSL) classes, advocacy support and deaf awareness training - and moved to Ilford in 2011.

One of the most popular clubs that they run is the Redbridge Deaf Club, where each week in a little cafe, a group of around 25-30 people from all over London, meet each week to play games and socialise, and our reporter, Liam Coleman went along to find out what the club was like.

Mangai Sutharsan, the founder of the Empowering Deaf Society.Mangai Sutharsan, the founder of the Empowering Deaf Society.

He said: “It was quite daunting going along to a deaf club when I didn’t know any sign language, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to speak to anyone but I was given an incredibly warm welcome, and made to feel at home straight away.

“Members of the group taught me how to sign my own name, and how to say hello and thank you - just the real basics of BSL - but it meant that I felt involved and there were several speaking members who helped translate sign for me.”

The charity was set up by Mangai Sutharsan in 2009 - she was born in Sri Lanka and was born hearing, but when she was seven she had an accident and became deaf.

Mangai went to India to get treatment and it was then decided by her family that it would be best for her if she moved to the UK, and lived with her aunty and uncle in London.

Life-long friends Eugene and Rita who have been able to keep in touch thanks to the EDS.Life-long friends Eugene and Rita who have been able to keep in touch thanks to the EDS.

But Mangai said that she spent a year looking out the window - every single day - while her aunty and uncle were at work because she couldn’t understand the TV or the newspapers and became incredibly frustrated.

She said that her brother came to visit from France, and she vented all of her frustrations and her brother suggested that she learned BSL.

And the rest is history.

Mangai said: “After arriving in the UK 20 years ago and finding it incredibly difficult to access any information or services, I decided to set up my own organisation to support deaf people.

Recorder reporter Liam Coleman learning BSL with members of the Empowering Deaf Society.Recorder reporter Liam Coleman learning BSL with members of the Empowering Deaf Society.

“EDS aims to improve the quality of life for Deaf people through better access and knowledge, social inclusion and breaking down barriers.

“Our aim for the future is to grow the charity so that we can support and empower more Deaf people and achieve equality.

Two members of the club are life-long friends Zita Wilby, 57, and Eugene Carr, 59, who have known each other since they were four, and after losing contact for a number of years the club has meant they can now meet up every week.

Zita and Eugene went to school together in Barking, but when Zita left school she moved to Yorshire with her family.

The Empowering Deaf Society in Ilford holding one of their regular meetings.The Empowering Deaf Society in Ilford holding one of their regular meetings.

She moved back to London several years later, and about 7-8 years ago she was in church and recognised Eugene - even though he was wearing a hat - and asked if he remembered her.

And of course he did!

Eugene said: “I couldn’t believe it - I was so happy.

“I hadn’t seen Zita for years, and now the deaf club means that we can keep in touch all the time.”

The Empowering Deaf Society in Ilford holding one of their regular meetings.The Empowering Deaf Society in Ilford holding one of their regular meetings.

Last month the EDS hosted their second Deaf Street Party in Perrymans Farm Road and hundreds of people came along, and in October it is hosting its first Deaf Ball at Fairlop Waters Country Park.

To find out more about the EDS or to sign up to one of its classes visit their website https://bit.ly/2nzMOUC or call 0208 215 4710.

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