Bunhill: Helping the blind into business

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The Independent Online
IT MUST have taken some persuading to get Bank of England associate director Pen Kent, Standard Chartered chairman Rodney Galpin and Conservative MP Emma Nicholson to sit down tomorrow for the formal launch of the Blind in Business Trust, which aims to boost the career prospects of the visually impaired.

But then Neil Heslop, the man who has brought them together along with other high-profile personalities, does not sound an ordinary individual.

A long-time sufferer from a diseased retina, he suddenly and unexpectedly went blind while studying English at Newcastle University.

After taking six months off to learn Braille, he returned to gain a law degree. Now a business planning manager with Northern Telecom, he has just completed an MBA at Cranfield, sponsored by his employer.

For the past week, he has been leading the school's induction course for new students.

Mr Heslop and two friends - Simon Meredith, a blind solicitor with the blue chip City firm Slaughter and May (the trust's solicitors), and Richard Hanson, a partially sighted solicitor with Cameron Markby Hewitt - started work on the scheme in April. They had come across the 'shocking statistics' that 80 per cent of visually impaired people of working age are unemployed and only 14 per cent of those in work - about 2 per cent of the total - are in any sort of career.

What they came up with was a charity dedicated to exploiting modern technology to give people with sight problems a chance in business. Endorsed by the Royal National Institute for the Blind, the trust will focus on providing specialist equipment, increasing the awareness of the benefits of employing visually impaired people, and offering information about the technology available.

By attracting such high-profile trustees, the scheme hopes to obtain large donations. But it is also applying to other charitable bodies for assistance, and, said Mr Heslop, will take money from anywhere it is offered.

(Photographs omitted)