Norfolk Deaf Festival 2023

Friday 8th and Saturday 9th July 2023 was the weekend NDF took over Norwich. It was also, appropriately, the weekend of the famous Lord’s Mayor Procession.

Friday was my opportunity to play ‘tourist’ and have a nosey around at the other stall holders and catch up with some friends.

Saturday was a different story, I was wide awake at 4am planning our day. We arrived early to set up our SH BSL stall. I had prepared some fantastic colour posters advertising upcoming courses in two venues in Norwich and one venue in King’s Lynn. Boxes had been packed waiting overnight and we were good to go!

My partner, Eeva, had an electric balloon pump to blow up all our balloons – we wanted to put SH BSL on the map and glow up with green. Between us we wrestled with all those balloons and got them successfully inflated and festooned in our corner of the Forum.

It was as if the sun was shining directly on us pointing the way, as soon as you walked in the venue you could see the eye-catching colours from a distance. We had people coming up to the stall in droves from just after 9 until nearly the close, hundreds of people must have come to see us. We had volunteers in addition to our normal team – Heidi and Tash joined me with Eeva and Julia. The trouble was they left us to it – the girls went off to give out leaflets and pens – the boys were left ‘manning’ the stall, literally!

It wasn’t long before you could see flashes of green in the crowds as our green paper hands were disseminated among the visitors. Anyone who wanted further information on BSL could use the QR code on the back to log in to my website. The hands (there must have been 100 or so) went like hot cakes – ironically a lot of the adults were using them as fans and the kids just thought they were great fun! One couple sitting in Marzano’s cafe actually called Julia over because they wanted hands for their grandchildren and further information on learning BSL. We were soon running short on leaflets and pens and had numerous enquiries for courses.

I met up with some old students as well as some new ones. One lady came up with the biggest smile on her face, she wanted to thank us for setting up a course in her hometown, Kings Lynn and said how long she had been waiting to do one locally. I had a lot of time for her, she was telling me how she works for a cancer charity and the efforts it has taken to set shops up in the area. Obviously BSL will be something which will only enrich this provision.

Something I loved about the festival was the comradery between the stall holders and other organisations – I found lots of people were being sign posted to me by others and it was lovely to be able to do the same back, point folk in the direction of services that they might find useful. Partnership working in action!

It was great to support other Deaf people too, the Deaf chef in particular, was one of my favourites – she cooked some amazing fresh flavours. She came all the way from Essex!

Another MASSIVE highlight for me was meeting people in person I had taught on Zoom. One of them was is that she was with me for levels one and two – passed with flying colours and now works at an extremely well respected School for the Deaf, Oak Lodge, as a Teacher. She came all the way from London to be a volunteer at the Festival and had the biggest smile on her face. For me to be part of her journey – wow, that really pinged a heart string. So proud. The funniest thing was though, meeting folk in person, standing on their own two legs – you suddenly realise how tall they are and they most likely think the same of me, it’s those little things we don’t pick up over video conferencing.

It felt like a day of firsts, what with all the students and catching up with folk. I also got to meet Samantha Baines, author of “Living with Hearing Loss and Deafness”. Deaf herself, Samantha was lovely – typical of what you might expect of a popular writer, very bohemian and gregarious. Such a pleasure.

So, in conclusion, I want to say a massive thank you to my “Team in Green” who supported me with everything at the festival – what a team we were! Thank you for helping make it a huge success.

Also, a special thank you to the NDF Committee who work tirelessly behind the scenes to organise the annual festival so successfully. The hours they must put in and the admin involved, it is a real feat to put on such a large event, over two days and cater for so many different genres. It really is exactly what Norfolk needs, it puts us on the map nationally with regards to Deafness and services and is a fantastic opportunity for networking and celebrating our culture and lifestyle. For our local Deaf community it brings national organisations into Norfolk so that we can all benefit from information and signposting on anything from VRS interpreting services to Carer Support issues. For local people wishing to connect with the community and learn BSL or become an ally, then it provides much needed awareness and information on those things too.

In retrospect, I am still buzzing with a huge smile on my face, it was an amazing occasion with so many groups, clubs and organisations represented. I was even asked if I would like to be a Deaf Comedian like Gavin Lilley, but no, I’ll leave that up to him and his peers – he and Flo cracked me up that evening, people talk about ‘belly laughing’ – I had tears running down my face it was so funny and relatable.

Norfolk Deaf Festival will be back at the Norwich Forum in 2024 – Do not miss it….!!!!!

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