A deaf-led charity based in Newton Aycliffe, Rare Rockets, is the most recent beneficiary of the Open North Foundation (ONF), having received £3,000, the largest grant awarded to date by the not-for-profit organisation, to help boost its website and marketing efforts.

The majority of the grant will go towards the charity’s In-vision work, which is a visual alternative to a text driven advert or message. Involving a video message of a person using British Sign Language (BSL) and also including subtitles and voiceover, it is a particularly effective way to deliver messages to all within the deaf community and especially to those that do not speak English as their first language

Located in Aycliffe Business Park, the charity was established in 2021 in response to the devastation caused to the deaf community during the pandemic. Shortlisted in the Newcomer of the Year Category at the 2022 Making Your Mark Awards, Rare Rockets has seen huge interest in its services and, as a result, has increased its employees from five in April 2022, to its current 20.

Some of the many issues faced by the deaf community during the pandemic included isolation from society, as deaf clubs and other support networks were cancelled due to restrictions, the need to wear masks which meant lip reading and body language were no longer an option and for many that use hearing aids, the masks caused increased sweat which led to their hearing aids malfunctioning.

CEO of Rare Rockets, Craig Jones, is deaf and leads a team of a mixture of deaf and hearing employees that work side by side within its three areas of expertise, BSL Interpreting, Sign Language Training and Personal Assistant support work.

Open North Foundation was established in July 2020 and is a direct response from the business community in the North East to provide financial and in-kind support to small businesses in the region directly hit by the pandemic. It relies on the generosity of companies and organisations to provide donations and has a structure of a board of directors, ambassadors and supporters, all of whom provide their services free of charge.

Craig Jones, CEO, Rare Rockets, said: “In the last two months we have achieved charitable status which is phenomenal and will allow us to invest our time and profits back to the community we are so passionate about.

“The pandemic devastated the deaf community and the isolation it caused is still felt by many. As a result, we have expanded our community service and with referrals coming in thick and fast, we are growing to meet with demand.

“I firmly believe in equality for deaf people right across the board, whether this be from a grassroots deaf perspective or from professionals.”

“I would like to take the opportunity to say a heartfelt thank you to all of the team at Open North Foundation. The grant will allow us to make life easier and less complicated for many within our deaf community.

Richard Swart, chair, Open North Foundation, said: “It is important to recognise not only the support provided by Rare Rockets to those that utilise its services, but also the significant growth of the charity, which has gone from five to 20 employees in but a few months, meaning its contribution to the North East economy is growing rapidly.

“I continue to encourage those within the business community that can support the Open North Foundation to reach out via our website.”