Keiron gives a big thumbs up with his tongue sticking out

SeeAbility scoops top award at the Charity Awards 2021

We are delighted to announce that we have won the Overall Award for Excellence at this year’s Charity Awards, the longest-running and most prestigious awards scheme in the charity sector.

As well as winning the top prize in the Healthcare and medical research category, SeeAbility was chosen as the Overall Winner by this year’s judges for our work to convince the NHS to roll out eye testing for children in all special schools across England.

Our life-changing work in special schools

When we discovered that children with learning disabilities were 28 times more likely than other children to have a serious sight problem, we set out to demonstrate to NHS England the huge benefits that could be gained for these children by providing specialist eye testing within special schools.

In a six-year pilot programme involving 1,500 children at 11 schools, we conducted over 3,500 eye tests and dispensed more than 1,700 pairs of glasses. Nearly half of the children tested had a problem with their vision, and a third needed glasses – yet 44% of them had never had their eyes tested before.

After seeing the results, NHS England has now pledged to commission a model of eye care in special schools based on our programme. Over the next few years this programme is expected to benefit more than 120,000 children. We've also been asked to give advice on the adoption of similar models in Scotland and Northern Ireland and Wales.

Transforming lives

Su Sayer, chair of the Charity Awards judges, said:

“SeeAbility created a brilliantly thought through programme, which has already transformed the lives of many children with both a learning disability and sight loss.

“The charity’s attention to detail, training almost 800 staff and ensuring that each individual would have the support they needed, was exemplary. They understood how important it was for eye testing for children to take place in familiar surroundings at school, rather than in hospital. As a result, many more children were tested and were able to have glasses where necessary.

“We can all appreciate what a huge difference being able to see clearly can make to anyone’s ability to engage in everyday life. This is an outstanding project which, by influencing the NHS, will make a lasting difference to many people with a learning disability across the UK.”

Charity Awards judge Martin Edwards, chief executive of Julia’s House hospice, said of our the project:

“A brilliant example of transforming outcomes for a largely unnoticed group of beneficiaries.

“They tested it, they based it on evidence and they built on their success with lobbying. They’ve interwoven it with the NHS and 50% of their staff have lived experience. I thought it was wonderful.

“We shouldn’t underestimate how complex it is to get the attention of a multi-layered bureaucracy like the NHS at national level, and to produce a model that can be rolled out in a devolved health environment.”

An unconventional awards ceremony

Alongside the nine other category winners, three winners of the Rathbones Covid-19 Response Awards and the recipient of the Daniel Phelan Award for Outstanding Achievement, we were presented with our two trophies in an online ceremony broadcast live on Thursday 10 June, hosted by writer, comedian and political commentator Ayesha Hazarika.

Andy Pitt, head of charities – London, at Overall Awards Partner Rathbone Investment Management, said:

“The Charity Awards celebrate leadership, good governance, innovation and excellence. As investment managers we do everything we can to support the work that the sector does and promoting best practice is an important part of our relationship with charities.

“The past year has brought huge challenges for the charity sector, but it has also highlighted the importance of its contribution, without which people around the world would be significantly weakened. We are delighted to support these awards and to honour the brilliant work of UK charities large and small.”

An equal right to sight

Lisa Hopkins, chief executive at SeeAbility, said:

“We are so humbled to receive not one but two unexpected awards for the work of our brilliant and totally dedicated special schools team. It’s also recognition of the schools, parents and children who we have partnered with – and who have supported us so much over the past few years to evidence the huge injustice of avoidable sight loss in so many children with learning disabilities. 

To make this possible, as a social care provider, SeeAbility took the huge leap of faith to expand into direct clinical services and I thank our Trustees and colleagues across the organisation for their commitment in doing this.

The support we’ve had over the years across health, research, the third sector, education and at the NHS has been immense and there are too many people to thank but this award is for them all too.  We also pay special recognition to the funders who have helped us get to this stage. 

We sometimes have to pinch ourselves when we think of the difference this will make with the NHS now taking this model of care forward – delivering an equal right to sight to tens of thousands of children. I believe this will change the lives of future generations of children with learning disabilities who will now be better able to take advantage of their education leading to a more fulfilled life.”

Read more about the other winners at the Charity Awards 2021