RNIB Scotland's latest venture with Standard Life is the product of an informal but long-standing relationship. It began in 2002, when the insurance firm funded a project by the RNIB to assess websites for accessibility by blind people. The charity for blind and partially sighted people became a Standard Life official charity partner in 2003.
The relationship was rekindled this year when RNIB Scotland began looking for funding for a welfare rights officer who would visit older blind and partially sighted people in the Edinburgh and Lothians region.
"We've not been successful in getting funding for this specific service from any of the local authorities we work with," says Bryn Merchant, deputy director at RNIB Scotland. "So we looked at a range of trusts and organisations for financial assistance. As one of our corporate contacts, Standard Life came back with an interest in taking it further."
But the idea changed during negotiations. "Initially we wanted them to support something more local - a member of staff who would do home visits and one-to-one contacts with blind and partially sighted people who needed benefits advice," says Merchant. "Geographically, we were looking at Edinburgh and Lothians."
But Standard Life wanted to fund a project that had a Scotland-wide impact, so the charity hit on the idea of a telephone helpline. "The helpline advice service emerged as a way of reaching all parts of the country and offering equity of access to blind and partially sighted people no matter where they live," says Merchant. Standard Life is funding the service, which is based in Falkirk, to the tune of £30,000 over three years. It began late last year.
Karen Frost, community investment manager at Standard Life, says the project is closely aligned with one strand of the firm's corporate social responsibility framework, which goes under the description 'strengthening lives'.
"We want people who are able to afford our products and are financially capable," she says, "If somebody is not able to afford our products, that's not good for us. But it's about enlightened self-interest. We want to help people lead full lives.
"We realised we were a bit light on that strand of the framework so we actively sourced a project that would help with that."
The project is also expected to accommodate volunteering by Standard Life employees. During the second year of the service, staff will be encouraged to visit blind and partially sighted people identified by RNIB's welfare rights officer to help with tasks such as filling in benefit application forms.
This builds on the existing relationship between some Standard Life workers, who are already involved in RNIB Scotland's children's service, helping young people to enjoy mainstream leisure activities such as bowling or going to the theatre.