Friday, 5 October 2018

At last I took delivery of my narrow boat "LASS STRAW" and it's amazing. I had been waiting 12 months for delivery which should have taken 6 months so I insisted that I should be allowed to take it out for the August bank holiday. So for that weekend and the weekend after, I  accompanied by my brother and three friends took her out, the first time travelling from Shardlow to Willington and back on the Trent and Mersey canal and the following week to Loughborough and back via the river Soar, returning the boat back to the boatyard each time for to complete some outstanding jobs. On the 14th September I was officially handed the keys and we were off on our extended journey. This was me, my brother Malc and part of the time my friend Chris.

We have visited some interesting places en route, the first of which was Melbourne in Derbyshire which, after a walk away from the canal via a disused railway line, we discovered was a lovely quaint unspoiled village. This was followed by Burton on Trent, Branston, and several days in the lovely village of Alrewas.

During this period I went home to Sheffield to attend the funeral of a close friend and my brother stayed on the boat.

At the funeral I was introduced to a couple who also own a narrow boat. He lives on the boat full time and she joins him, wherever he has moved the boat to, at the weekends, returning to Sheffield to go to work on Monday. What was extraordinary about this meeting was that when I told them where I had left my boat, they were gobsmacked because they had left their boat there too. On my return I discovered that their boat was moored five boats away from mine.

Anyway as you may know from my previous blogs, my brother and I are both visually impaired, with my brother's eyesight being a bit worse than mine so I thought I would keep you posted as to how we are getting on from the point of view of a VIP.

To be fair, although for the most part, when we are on open canal my brother is fine but he does struggle a bit when we are approaching things. it takes him a bit longer to work out what is happening but at 4mph not much can go wrong and we are both thoroughly enjoying the whole experience.

The boat is 58 feet long which has meant two things:
  1. At that length it is difficult to see an awful lot further than the front of the boat and I keep hearing my brother saying "it's a bloody long boat this".
  2. We have largely overcome the problem by, while one of us is steering from he rear, the other, armed with a monocular, (which was issued to each of us by the low vision clinic at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital) sits on the front communicating forthcoming hazards to the steerer via a two way radio.  
This is also useful at locks for the person at the lock to communicate to the people on the boat what the situation is eg " the lock is empty, gates opening soon" or "boat going up in lock and one waiting to come in to come down" The crew then  know whether to hold the boat for a few minutes or tie up for a longer period.

The other thing that the radio is often used for is to exclaim "BOOZER" when a pub is spotted and along the canal this is quite often.

We are now moored at Stone in Staffordshire for a few days while my brother is back in Sheffield attending to some business. We will then be detouring from the Trent and Mersey canal on to the Caldon canal to visit leek and Frogall and places in between.
I can't wait

Friday, 31 August 2018

Archery at the Para European Championships - Phil

I have been asked by to forward a blog post on my experience of competing as a visually impaired Archery at Pilsen in the Para European Championships 11th to 19th August 2018.

I am visually impaired and learnt to shoot a bow at Sheffield Blind Archery group based at the Northern General Hospital. I need to use a tactile sight and foot locators to enable me to aim at the target, along with my spotter Marina, who assists me with the equipment and telling me where the arrows are in the target.

I was very excited when I found out that I was part of the team going to the games. We travelled to Pilsen with the Para Archery team on the Saturday 11th August. We stayed in a hotel that was in the City centre and not far from the venues used for the competition. Over the next few days the team practiced at the Archery field in readiness for the Qualifiers.
These are used to determine who goes through to the semi final/finals.

Four visually impaired archers from Britain made to the semi finals, one of whom is a Deaf Blind archer from Northern Ireland.

The medal matches were held in the central square of Pilsen, next to the cathedral. It was televised on youtube which made me a little nervous initially, but I hardly had time to think about it when the time came.

My match was for the Bronze medal, against another British Archer. It came down to a one arrow shoot out, highest score wins. Unfortunately I lost, but despite my disappointment, I still enjoyed my experience at the games. I met some very interesting people from various places and can’t wait to go to my next competition.

Visual impairment does not have to be a barrier to taking up a chosen sport or pastime.

Friday, 27 July 2018

Yoga at SRSB - Amy

This year I have been trying something else new. Last year I started trampolining and this year I am trying out yoga for the first time. I have never been interested in yoga at all, but since I have been trampolining I love exercise. I never thought I would say that because I absolutely hated PE at school. I only liked it when we did trampolining. Last year though I came to realise that if you choose the right thing for you, exercise can feel so good. For me it’s not about doing it to lose weight, or beating my personal best, it’s about improving my general health. You don’t realise how much your muscles tense up when you don’t exercise, even just having one week away from the trampoline and I can feel a difference. It’s not a good one. I love the feeling the day after when I am really achy, but at the same time, I feel like I could do it all again. 

At this moment in time, trampolining is a bit too risky with my health. Even though I have been managing well, I don’t want to push my luck. I am gutted about it, I can’t wait until I can go again, and I will definitely go back. But for now, I need something less risky. Something where I am less likely to injure myself. If I fell off a yoga mat I would go with a lot less of a splat than falling off a trampoline! Like I said I have never really had an interest in yoga at all, but when I saw the Inbetweeners Club were doing it at SRSB I thought I would give it a go.

At the start of every session we lay on our backs on the yoga mat for a few minutes, just thinking. The teacher Catherine tells us to focus on all of the areas that are achy, painful, or just need a little bit of attention. In the first session my back and hips where really aching and I just couldn’t wait to get up. I also had my hair up in a ponytail, so laying on it messed it all up. I know not to do that again, I put my bobble lower down now! I didn’t have a clue what I was doing but Catherine was really informative. She explained the poses very well, so we didn’t need to see her. She works for Yoga Quota who do yoga with people who have disabilities and health problems. They make it accessible so that everybody is able to do it. If I couldn’t do one pose, Catherine changes it so that I am still working the same muscles, but in a different way. I felt sorry for the few people who could do the poses correctly, they were in that position for ages while Catherine made adaptations for the rest of us. When we did poses that involved kneeling I could not do them at all, because my knees hurt too much, I kept trying, but I just couldn’t kneel for more than a few seconds. I do have problems with the muscles around my knees and hips though. When we sat on the floor I could feel every single bone and it was so uncomfortable, the floor was so hard and flat! I can’t believe I used to be a nursery nurse. Most of my day was spent on the floor and crawling around when I did that job. These days my body just can’t handle the floor.

At the end of the first session we laid back on the mats, like at the beginning. We were told to think again about the work we had done, the areas that were hurting at the start and how they feel now. My back was a lot less achy at the end than it was at the start. So even just that one session had made a difference.

The day after, my legs ached, my hips ached and my shoulders ached. I didn’t even think I had done much with my shoulders. That’s the thing, exercise doesn’t have to be painful, or uncomfortable. When I go trampolining I am completely pain free, until the day after. Even just doing stretches can loosen you up and improve your circulation. I am far from fit, so don’t mistake me for a super lean fitness queen, because I’m not at all. I do need to exercise a lot more than I do, but this is just a few things I have learnt over the past year or so.

I have been to three sessions of yoga so far and I am getting better at it. Yesterday Catherine told me that I am really getting the hang of it, I knew what move was coming next and I noticed that my leg had moved and wasn’t straight enough. I am finding the hard, flat floor a lot easier to sit on, and I am able to kneel for longer. Still not long, but maybe nearer a minute rather than a few seconds. I do feel that my knee muscles are stronger though, less achy and less likely to go painful like they do sometimes. I have bought my own super thick yoga mat and downloaded some apps. I am really enjoying it, a lot more than I thought I would. I will be gutted when the sessions come to an end in a few weeks. I really, really hope there will be more. *

Exercise is really hard when you are visually impaired. If you go running or walking, you may need a guide. Swimming is difficult because it’s hard to see where people are, especially without my glasses and if they are under water. Adaptations can be made for ball games, such as balls and equipment that are designed for blind people. Going to a gym or leisure centre, full of sighted people is really scary and daunting. In my experience Sheffield International Venues do offer extra support when it is needed. They have disabled friendly sessions at some of their pools and they have been really supportive with me getting back into trampolining. But it’s still scary. I think it would be really good to have more accessible sessions during the day. A lot of exercise classes involve looking at an instructor, to watch what they are doing. Also some sessions are only in the evening, such as trampolining. This is a really bad time when you are visually impaired, especially in the winter when it goes dark early. Also the busses don’t run as often and organising transport is more difficult in the evening. So I feel there should be more accessible day sessions for activities. It would be really good to make things like aerobics and yoga completely accessible in gyms and leisure centres. I have had lots of support when I have asked for it, but I do think that work needs to be done to make leisure centres less daunting and more friendly and welcoming for people with sight problems.

More VI friendly exercise sessions could benefit VI people in a variety of ways. It could improve their fitness and general health, it could also be a social activity, meeting up with friends and making new friends. This would then improve their mental health and their confidence.

*This story was written before SRSB established a regular class. There is now a Yoga Session every Thursday from 4:30 to 5:30pm.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Trip to Derby - Graham


Yesterday, I went to see what progress had been made in building my narrow boat.

Firstly, my brother and I went by bus to Sheffield Interchange and then walked across to Sheffield Station where I bought my rail ticket to Derby. What I think may be of interest to visually impaired people is that if you use a disabled person's railcard to get a third off the price of a day return to Derby it will cost £7.85. However if you show your mobility bus pass at the booking office at Sheffield Station you can purchase a Derbyshire Wayfarer ticket for half price (£6.50). It can be used on the following rail services:

  • Buxton - Chapel-en-le-Frith - New Mills (Newtown)
  • Sheffield - Hathersage - Hope - Edale - Chinley - New Mills (Central)
  • Sheffield - Chesterfield - Alfreton - Langley Mill - Ilkeston
  • Sheffield - Chesterfield - Derby
  • Derby - Belper - Ambergate - Cromford - Matlock
  • Derby - Long Eaton
  • Derby - Tutbury and Hatton - Uttoxeter
  • Derby - Willington - Burton-on-Trent
  • Shirebrook - Whitwell

It can also be used on lots of bus services within and in and out of Derbyshire county but I am not listing these as you can already use your mobility pass on any bus.

We boarded the 10.24 train to Southampton getting off at Derby 30 minutes later. We walked to the front of the station and after about 15 minutes boarded a Skylink bus which runs from Derby to Leicester via East Midlands Airport.

These buses are great. Each stop comes up on the destination board as you are arriving but more importantly you are notified audibly as you approach each stop with the name of the stop.

We alighted in Shardlow and after a short walk, arrived at The Wharf and J D Narrowboats.

We spent about an hour there and I was delighted with progress which, amongst lots of other things, included seeing that the engine had been installed. (a symbolic milestone).

Photographs of my boat can be viewed on my Facebook page.

Apparently the weather in Sheffield was shocking but when we came out of the boatyard we were in bright sunshine so we went for a walk. We walked by the Trent and Mersey canal (which in parts is the canal and in parts is the River Trent) to Trent Lock which is at the junction of the Trent and Mersey Canal, the River Soar and the Erewash Canal.

Trent Lock is a lovely picturesque spot with two pubs and a cafe. Having had a nice lunch at the Lockeeper Inn we continued our walk to Long Eaton from where we got a bus back to Derby.

For anyone thinking of doing this walk. From Trent Lock stay on the towpath, don't be tempted to leave the canal at any of the bridges because you will soon see that the towpath goes right behind the bus stop.

The number 12 goes direct to Derby bus station from where you can get any bus going to Alvaston or the Skyliner both of which drop at the Railway Station.

We were a bit unfortunate in that we arrived at the bus stop at 15:20 for the bus which runs every half hour apart from the 15:27 which only runs on school holidays so we had to wait until 15:57.

My advice would be to do this walk in summer and at the weekend when you are much more like to see boat movements on the canal and river.

All in all a nice day out, which if we had taken sandwiches and a flask would only have cost the £6.50 we spent on the Wayfarer ticket.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

The benefits of blindness - Amy

When you tell people you are blind or visually impaired a common reaction is "Oh it must be awful for you." And it is. But what you don’t realise is we can do things that you can’t do, ha!

Some of us can get on the bus or tram for free, you have to pay lots and lots of money.

Sometimes people offer you their seat, as if you are royalty. We can’t be expected to stand up! Some people seem to think because we can’t see, we can’t stand without being propped up. Why??? It is useful on the bus though, it is hard trying to get to the back of the bus, usually to find there are no seats free there either.

Some of us get a Radar key. This means we can use our own private toilet. We don’t even have to go upstairs. Often this is really good, until you come across a disabled toilet that is being used as Christmas tree storage. I could not even see the toilet for all the trees and boxes of decorations!

Some of us get a disabled parking badge. You may think what is the point in that? Blind people can’t drive! But when we find somebody who can, it makes things easier for us and for them. Plus it saves money most of the time.

Some of us get a cheaper TV licence. Makes sense really, if you can’t get the full benefit of watching TV.

We get to go on Touch Tours at the theatre. This is where we get to see things closely or touch things before the show. You can sometimes go on stage, see props, see costumes and occasionally meet a few of the cast members. This can help a lot if we can’t see the show itself very well. It gives us a better understanding of what is happening on stage and what it looks like.

We can also easily avoid things we don’t to watch, such as gory bits in films. For some people this might be disappointing, for me I was quite glad to miss out on that bit.

Some of us have a better sense of touch and can read braille.

Some of us get a Life Plus card to use at leisure centres around Sheffield. This means I get to go swimming, and my Dad comes for free as my carer. He offers to pay for me, so I don’t pay anything!

When I was doing my exams at school I got to sit in a smaller, more relaxed room. I also got 25% extra time. None of my friends did. I have always been slower at reading and writing than my friends, so the extra time came in very useful.

Sometimes we get to move to the front of the queue. This is always a good thing. Nobody likes queuing.

For a long time my family and friends were trying to persuade me to register my sight. This is where an eye consultant gives you a certificate saying that you are sight impaired or severely sight impaired/blind. I didn’t want that label because I still had some sight and to me it didn’t seem on the verge of blindness. It just wasn’t good. Eventually, to keep everybody quiet I gave in and I got registered. It was very daunting at first, but it does make life so much easier. It makes things happen and you get the support you need to move on with your life and live a happy life.

I used to feel that I didn’t want any special treatment, I just wanted to be treated the same as everybody else. But in time I learned to accept it and embrace it. Because at the end of the day it makes my life a lot easier, more fun and it means that sight loss isn’t just a bad thing.

Because it means I get to do things that you don’t!

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Radio show with Sophia Endberg - Gail

In June 2017 I was asked to meet Sophia Endberg, a student from Sheffield University who wanted to go out with a blind person in the town centre around Sheffield. I was to speak into a microphone and speak all the noises I heard in the street around me.

Sophia is from Bonn, Germany and spoke excellent English and soon we were off on our travels.

As we left SRSB Sophia was quick to pick up the tactile marking which my cane was rolling over and she discovered that she had not noticed it when arriving and was fascinated to learn more about tactile markings as we went along.

I carry a Trekker Breeze (a sat nav designed for blind people) at all times. This gives me information about the street I am on and also junctions coming up.

As we went along the busy streets (it was Friday afternoon) and alive with people all going about their business, I was telling Sophia about the tram I could hear rattling along, suitcases being rolled on the pavements, also some noises from a nearby building site.

When we got to the town centre the Town Hall clock started chiming and there must have been five different lots of street musicians all at various points on Fargate.

I find the singing quite disorientating as I am relying on my cane to pick up noises.

I also told Sophia about the rotating cones underneath the control boxes at pelican crossings as she was fascinated by these and she has told me she is pointing them out to her friends.

Sophia has produced the radio work for her university and here is the link to listen. Sophia and myself were out two hours and she has had to cut it down but I feel you can still appreciate the work she has produced.

Friday, 9 March 2018

The Walking Group - Martin

MartinSheffield Visually Impaired Walking Group (SVIWG) organises volunteer-led walks for visually impaired people (VIPs) in and around Sheffield. This user-led group offers VIPs the opportunity to go walking regularly, assisted by trained volunteer guides. They are one of the sports and leisure groups that are supported by SRSB.

As a new VIP member to the walking group I was taken aback by how welcome I was made to feel with friendly guides and members from all walks of life. I am so glad I joined the group, it has given me a new sense of freedom and opened up a whole new world for me that I did't think would be possible being registered blind.

All the guides are excellent with brilliant walks around Sheffield and the outlying areas. You will never feel worried or stressed about obstacles as the guides are well trained and very descriptive. The guides are frequently rotated to give them a rest and to keep things fresh.

My first walk was around the outlying area through Chatsworth Park. It was a fantastic day out, I felt relaxed, safe and at the end of the walk I thought I'd had a mini holiday. My wellbeing felt topped up and revitalised with a new purpose to help others in the visually impaired community to come walking.

I would like to thank all the members but personally thank Gail for encouraging me to join the walking group. Thank you everyone for making me feel welcome, safe and making me feel so happy again.

If you are visually impaired and would like more information on joining this group, please visit the SVIWG website.