It’s been a turbulent time for RNIB, which this week unveils a new brand and strategy as part of a drive to modernise its operations.
Eliot Lyne, the interim chief executive, says the charity is at a "pivot point" when it is looking to the future, but is also dealing with issues from its past.
Lyne is in his current role because of past issues. RNIB is currently the subject of a Charity Commission inquiry in relation to safeguarding and last week announced the closure of the school at the centre of the investigation, RNIB Pears Centre, saying that it accepts that it is not the right organisation to run such specialised service.
In the wake of the incident its chief executive resigned and Lyne, previously its interim finance director, was appointed interim chief executive.
It's not the only past challenge, though. The charity has also been through a challenging period internally following its merger with Action for Blind People in 2017. The subsequent restructure put up to 200 jobs at risk and prompted public warnings from trade unions.
Lyne is keen that the new brand and strategy should signal a step change in how the charity operates internally and externally. It’s important, he says, for the charity to be honest about where it has gone wrong so it can learn the lessons and move on. But also be proud of what it has achieved and be optimistic about its future.
Right now the charity’s focus is on challenging public perceptions. It is also keen to become a more collaborative charity.
The launch of the new brand coincides with the charity’s 150th anniversary.
“We’ve been around for a long time and we can celebrate our heritage and things we have achieved over the years but we know there’s an awful lot more still to do for blind and partially sighted people,” he says. “We’re absolutely determined to move forward strongly.”
Lyne says that the charity’s new look is very much intended to support one of the main themes of its new strategy - challenging people’s perceptions.
“One of the key elements of our new strategy is challenging people’s perceptions of sight loss," he says. "A fresher more modern brand identity, with a fresher more modern look and feel, helps us to do that. But the strategy is about more than just rebranding RNIB.”
The new tagline, “see differently”, has been particularly well received, he says.
One of the challenges in creating a new brand identity is to make sure that it works across visual, tactile and audio formats used by the charity.
“We have to make sure that anything we do is translatable into all those formats and crucially that it is accessible in the all those formats at the same time,” he says.
RNIB’s approach is very much in line with that of other disability charities.
Lyne says that Paralympic Games having a greater profile has led to a “a sense of understanding of the challenges of living with a disability,” among the public, which RNIB hopes to build on.
“We have seen a lot in the disability field over the last five to ten years of importance of challenging the public perception of what it is to live with a disability and to see the person not the disability, so that's really what we’re trying to do here.
“We’ve been working in that space for some time but what we want to do is focus our efforts,” he says.
‘Facilitate not dictate’
RNIB is also investing in building community groups. It has set up 12 networks of community facilitators.
“The levels of isolation for blind and partially sighted people are huge particularly in more rural areas,” he says, which is why “connecting people is critical”.
“When I was talking to one of our members of staff who works in the field the expression I heard was ‘this is about facilitate not dictate’, and that is very much RNIB’s ethos."
To help blind and partially sighted people build confidence and reduce loneliness “it’s not our job to tell them what to do, it’s our job to facilitate,” he explains.
‘We need to have more humility’
RNIB has somewhat of a bullish reputation in the charity sector. Its former chief executive Lesley-Anne Alexander frequently complained that there were “too many” sight loss charities, during a period when RNIB undertook a series of mergers with smaller sight loss charities.
Lyne says RNIB is making a deliberate effort to be more collaborative and more humble in its relations with other charities operating in the same space.
“We realise that we can’t be the only voice or the only organisation that is going to change society,” he says, “we have to work more in partnership and collaboration with others and we’re seeking very clearly to do that, which is maybe something that RNIB hasn’t done enough of before.”
He adds that “we need to have more humility in the way we work with others” and that “it’s something I’m very personally committed to and there’s a lot of support for that in the organisation”.
For example RNIB is currently working with Guide Dogs to address the problem of “lots of local authorities wanting to put in shared space schemes where you take away the curbs, which makes it very difficult for blind and partially sighted people to navigate around”.
‘Making RNIB fit for the future’
RNIB’s fourth strategic priority, which underpins the others, is “creating a fit-for-purpose organisation”.
This is about having the correct governance, systems and organisational culture that enable the charity to ”get to a place where you can effectively deliver”.
“We’ve had a lot of change as an organisation, particularly the last four to five years and this year has been a really challenging time,” Lyne says. While he is not about to pretend that there will be no more change, he says it will be focused on things that help RNIB to “deliver in much more effective way”.
“There is a lot to do in RNIB - we need to be honest with ourselves,” he says.
“The issues at RNIB Pears Centre have illustrated that we need to make some improvements, and quite significant improvements in places, and I’m absolutely determined that we’re not only honest with ourselves, but honest with everyone.”
But it won’t be “overnight change”, he cautions.
“It’s going to take some time, but we’re definitely need to get it right. And we will get it right.”