OUR eyesight is so precious, and losing it – if only to walk ‘The Blindfold Mile’ – proved to be a real eye opener of an experience.
I’d joined a number of volunteers in Redditch, including the borough’s Deputy Mayor Councillor Gareth Prosser, to step out in the rain last Saturday morning, June 8, as part of an awareness campaign organised by Sight Concern Worcestershire.
It was an unnerving experience, made more so by many people’s failure to realise someone was obviously sightless and unable to get out of their way.
Paired up with a sighted guide – I was joined by my friend Elaine Herlihy – we set off on a trail from St Stephen’s Church in the town centre that took in HoW College, the John Bonham Memorial, the Library, Palace Theatre, and the Kingfisher Shopping Centre.
Out on the trail, uneven surfaces, steps, street furniture, cars, other people, all had to be negotiated.
A number of tasks had to be attempted – a simple jigsaw, a drawing exercise, kicking a football, buying a cup of tea, making a clay pot, and for me best of all, exploring the John Bonham Memorial through touch – what a stunning piece of art.
Our other senses kicked in – traffic was louder, the feel of pavement dimples at crossings, the taste of our ‘Wagon Wheel’ at the library, the smell of the market.
But it was still totally disorientating – my mind had raced far ahead of my body and it wasn’t until I heard the echo in the college quadrant that I actually knew where I was.
Most trying of all though was Saturday morning in the shopping centre.
By now I had the responsibility of guiding Elaine and for the first time I noticed all those little obstacles – comfy chairs, little market stalls, cutout motorcycles for the Royal Enfield exhibition, all of which had to be passed.
So far so good, but turning down the main mall to return to Worcester Square was a real trial.
It was so crowded people frequently failed to register us, despite wearing Sight Concern T-shirts and one of us being blindfolded.
The two mobility scooter users we came across were frankly a menace.
Speaking about the entire event, Coun Prosser who went round with his consort wife Lynn, said: “It was a humbling experience. I found the the situation very daunting and it reinforced to me just how much we take our eyesight for granted.”
“THERE are about 7,500 people in Worcestershire registered blind or partially sighted, but we estimate the number is actually much larger,” said Fiona Blake of Sight Concern Worcestershire.
The charity works across the county’s six districts and with any local organisations for the blind, for instance in Redditch with the Redditch Association for the Blind.
It also has its own dedicated sight loss specialists across the county.
In Redditch it’s Michelle Coyle, who holds a peer support group every Monday from 1.30pm to 4pm at The Christ Church Centre, Ryton Close, Matchborough. She can also be contacted on 07505 766850.
In Bromsgrove it’s Helen Beardes who can be contacted on 07804 027597.
In Malvern it’s Jenny Douglas who can be contacted on 07722 630217.
In Wychavon it’s Heather Smith who can be contacted on 07505 842560.
In Worcester it’s Kat Ridley-Smith who can be contacted on 07378 324 683.
It costs about £350,000 a year to run with small grants from the NHS and Big Lottery Fund backed by donations from individuals and organisations.
“People who have walked the Blindfold Mile have experienced just a little bit of the life changing impact of sight loss, and many sufferers can initially feel their race is run,” said Fiona.
“However we are here to help and to show that although things may be different their lives are far from over.”
THERE are people in all districts of the county who would appreciate the help of a volunteer once a week to take them swimming, walking or just to pop in for a cup of tea.
It’s an opportunity to make a huge difference to someone’s life – if you can help call Sight Concern on 01905 723245.