For International Volunteer Day 2019, we're highlighting the work one of our volunteer campaigners, Linda.
My name is Linda and I live in the North West of England, in Cumbria. I retired from work about 11 years ago, after a good career for about 20 years with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). When I retired, I felt I still had a lot of energy and needed to use that energy in a different way.
I got involved with my local disability group and was elected deputy chairman and, being the only visually impaired person in that group, I concentrated mainly on issues which affected blind and partially sighted people in my local district. And then about 5 years ago, I was contacted by the then Regional Campaigns Officer of the North West for RNIB, asking if I would be interested in becoming the Volunteer Campaign Coordinator in Cumbria. I took it as my opportunity to help everybody with sight loss in Cumbria, not just in my local area. And if I could change things for the better, then I would.
I have no sight whatsoever. I am nearing 70 but I began to lose my sight as a teenager. My dad had retinitis pigmentosa and I had inherited that. It was quite unique that the condition was on both sides of my parents, and then I later developed cataracts and also glaucoma.
The first thing that I got involved with was the ‘Swap with me’ campaign, which was to exchange places with bus operators, their drivers, and people with sight loss. This was designed just to experience what the driver has to concentrate on whilst he’s driving, when people are boarding his bus. But also for that driver to understand what it’s like for a visually impaired person to actually get onto his bus, make payment to him, and then make their way down the bus to get a seat. I was really excited about doing that, and I actually sat in the driver’s seat, it was great!
More recently, I have worked with other sight loss charities to get a 'Street Charter'. This is getting councils to sign up to a commitment to make the built environment a lot safer and more accessible for people with sight loss. So such things as cars parked on pavements, which is a great hazard for us, café furniture, wheelie bins being left inappropriately on the pavement, thing like that. The Street Charter is just to ensure that people with sight loss can go into the built environment, into the shops, and get themselves there safely.
Another campaign which followed on from the 'Street Charter' in Carlisle was a new road layout development in my local town of Whitehaven, at a very very busy junction.
I was involved right at the very start, right at the concept stage of this project. When I went to the initial consultation I did ask if there was a tactile plan of what was going to be developed, they said “I’m sorry but no there isn’t”. But I obviously laid the seed in their minds, because some months later I had a phonecall asking me if I would attend another meeting, where they told me that they had searched the country, trying to find somebody who would create a tactile plan, and large print plans of the development, and eventually they had commissioned RNIB to produce a marvellous tactile plan of everything that’s to be created.
The plans themselves involved controlled pedestrian crossings and in relation to tactile paving I did persuade them of its importance ... pointing out just how dangerous shared space is, not only for visually impaired people, but for all members of the community, the elderly, parents with buggies and young children. And they did steer away from that, so yes, I was delighted to be involved with that.
It is a source of pride, but it’s also knowing that my voice has made a difference. Not a lot of people feel that they have that voice, but they should. They really should have that voice, and if I can empower others, and encourage others to do the same voluntary work that I do, they will feel as proud as I do.
Yes they have, the Street Charter and that new road development. They’re the ones that I feel as though I’ve contributed to making real change. The Street Charter in Carlisle is starting off...we do hope eventually that that will be rolled out to the rest of the County, the rest of the districts in Cumbria.
When I started to do volunteer work, I had a little bit of confidence, but that was the confidence which I’d gained from being in employment, realising that I could do exactly the same work as my colleagues sitting next to me. So I had a little bit of confidence, but my confidence doing the volunteering work has just grown and grown.