Monthly talk

Monthly Meeting: 20 November 2019 - 9.30am
Doors Open 9.30am for refreshments
Venue: Beccles Public Hall
Talk: Lionel Simms Decoding Stonehenge
Admission: Members free, guests £2.50

It has become a tradition at Beccles U3A for the monthly meeting to be followed by a Guest Speaker. As you will see from the list below, the subjects are very varied.


18th September 2019 – Ann Jillings and Varley the Dog – Dogs for the Deaf

At our September meeting Ann Jillings presented a very emotional talk on dogs for the deaf and certainly won the award for cute photographs! She was accompanied by Varley, a black Labrador who is partnered with her son Daniel who has been deaf from birth.

Hearing Dogs for Deaf People train dogs to alert deaf people to important and life-saving sounds they would otherwise miss – sounds that many people take for granted like the doorbell, alarm clock and even danger signals like the fire alarm. Being aware of these – thanks to a hearing dog – makes a real difference to deaf people’s lives, and can even save them. Their dogs are distinctive in that they wear burgundy coats with the Hearing Dogs logo, which also signals to other people that the person they're with is deaf.

Deafness can be a very isolating disability. A hearing dog can give a deaf person a new-found sense of independence and confidence now they have a loyal companion and a true friend by their side. Ann presented a couple of video case studies to illustrate the point.

As if this wasn’t enough – hearing dogs have saved countless lives in their important role; fire alarms sounding at the dead of night, alerting them to the shouts of a loved one who is in peril, even saving their deaf partners from potential car thieves!

The dogs are bred by the charity, spend the first 8 weeks with their mother and then move on to a socialiser who uses reward based training to develop the puppies, initially with basic commands such as “Sit” and “Stay”.

A hearing dog and their deaf partner need to be carefully matched to ensure the partnership will work well and this takes place after about 18 months of training.

So many little things need to be taken into consideration – for example, a bouncy, bubbly Labrador couldn’t be matched with a 70-year-old lady with mobility problems. But that Labrador would make a great companion for a fit 35-year-old who loves going out jogging every morning.

The charity has matched thousands of dogs with deaf people since its humble beginnings in 1982. At the moment, there are almost 1,000 working hearing dog partnerships across the UK.

When a hearing dog retires at about the age of 11, their deaf partner is able to reapply for a new dog – and a lot of them keep their former hearing dogs as pets!

The cost to train and support each hearing dog throughout their lifetime is £40,000 – so the charity relies heavily on voluntary contributions to help change lives. It doesn’t receive any government funding.

For more information visit

Thank you Vickie for writing this report

October Monthly Talk - Chris Greenhill: My Day Monitoring Norwich Prison

Independent Monitoring Board Inside every prison there is an Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) – a group of ordinary members of the public doing an extraordinary job. IMB members are independent, unpaid and work an average of 3-4 visits per month. Chris is one such volunteer within Norwich Prison. His role is to monitor the day-to-day life in Norwich Prison and ensure that proper standards of care and decency are maintained.

Monitoring covers:

  • Safety of the establishment
  • Fairness of prisoner treatment
  • Accommodation, the daily regime and the way it is managed
  • Communication and consultation
  • Healthcare
  • Entitlements
  • Education, training and preparation for release

Interior of Norwich Prison Members have unrestricted access to their local prison at any time and can talk to any prisoner or detainee they wish to, out of sight and hearing of members of staff if necessary. A typical monitoring visit, for example, might include time spent in the kitchens, workshops, accommodation blocks, recreation areas, healthcare centre and chaplaincy.

Board members also play an important role in dealing with problems inside the establishment. If a prisoner or detainee has an issue, he or she can put in a confidential request to see a member of the IMB. Problems might include concerns over lost property, visits from family or friends, special religious or cultural requirements, or even serious allegations such as bullying.

If something serious happens at the establishment, for example a riot or a death in custody, representatives of the Board may be called in to attend and observe the way in which the situation is handled.

Having retired 10 years ago, Chris became interested in Blundeston Prison and following a visit applied to become a member of its IMB. Nine months later he was admitted and was surprised by the calmness within the prison and the care and tolerance displayed by many of the staff. He was also impressed that 40% of the total staff are women using their particular skills to deal with issues. Blundeston was renowned as a training prison equipping the prisoners with skills to take outside.

When Blundeston closed Chris moved to Norwich Prison which is much bigger and with fewer opportunities for the prisoners to learn new skills with some of the tasks being mundane. Chris gave a few amusing examples of the complaints he had dealt with during his time as a Board member.

He mentioned that budget cuts in recent years had reduced the staffing numbers in prisons nationally and increased the stress levels. One or two riots in prisons in other parts of the country had reinstated some budgets and recruitment is taking place and Norwich seems able to recruit staff.

In response to a question Chris said that he has never felt threatened during his time working within prisons although he did occasionally receive some abuse!
He thinks it is difficult to assess how successful the IMB is. Measures tend to be quantitative rather than qualitative.

The Butler Trust produces a book listing the good things about the prisons across the country based on interviews with prisoners and staff. The prisoners called Norwich ‘a good jail’, and thought it ‘safer’ than comparable jails, as well as cleaner than other locals. They said the staff were ‘great’, and recognised that, even while working under tremendous pressure, ‘they really do care’ and had a ‘very positive’ approach compared to other jails with which they were familiar. They praised staff as ‘very good’ at de-escalating situations. They also rated ‘good’ support for families, including both full day family visits and children’s visits.

It was quite clear that Chris enjoys his involvement with Norwich Prison and contributes to these positive comments.

Up and coming talks

Wed 20 November 2019: Lionel Simms Decoding Stonehenge

Wed 11 December 2019: Christmas meeting tickets £2 and on sale to members only at Beccles Public Hall

Wed 15 January2020: Ray Simmons Jazz

Wed 19 February 2020: Mu Gurbutt Exhibiting at Chelsea Flower Show

Wed 18 March 2020 - Toby Capwell from Wallace Collection in London Talking about Armour

Wed 15 April 2020 - TBA

Wed 20 May 2020 - David Murton Astronomy for Beginners

Wed 18 June 2020 - Sally Dearman Changing from flying fighters to helicopters

Wed 16 July 2020 - Jim Graver The Big Issue

Wed 19 August 2020 - Robert Tilney Antiques Roadshow

Wed 16 September 2020 - Joy Hawkins - Medieval ideas on Contraception and Conception

Wed 21 October 2020 - TBA

Wed 18 November 2020 - Stephen Ashworth - Kitchen Chemistry

December 2020 Christmas programme yet to be finalised

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