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Organised face-to-face activities resume in the Coleraine area

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), in partnership with Irish Bowls, has launched Dander Bowls - a walk and a chat followed by a game of bowls at Coleraine Bowls Club every Monday morning. It’s been a big hit with blind and partially sighted people in the area.

Image: RNIB Community Access Worker Jonathan Adams pictured here with club member Anne Campbell

Club member John Tan from Coleraine was new to bowling and now he loves it. He said: “I think the group is excellent; it’s great to socialise in person again. Bowls is a first for us too, so we’re all learning new skills. This is the first group activity in a long time for people with sight loss and everyone felt very safe. We were encouraged to bring a helper or guide if we needed one.

“RNIB has been wonderful at keeping everyone connected during the lockdown and now RNIB’s Jonathan Adams has played a key role in helping to coordinate and organise activities. I’ve nothing but praise for everyone involved in making this happen.”

Gentle return

RNIB’s Community Access Worker Jonathan Adams said: “I was asked by Irish Bowls coach Ian McClure if I’d be interested in supporting them with their Sport NI grant as a partner organisation so we could provide a six-week programme of bowls coaching.

“It was hoped that this would incorporate a post-Covid return to activity and provide mental health benefits and exercise. The over-arching name is “Bowl Back better” and locally they have named each six-week session, ‘Dander Bowls.’”

This gentle return to face-to-face contact is perfect for those people with sight loss who are still apprehensive about meeting others in person again, having been come so accustomed to being in lockdown or attending activities and events online or virtually.

Staying connected through RNIB

The RNIB Northern Ireland Community Connection Team delivered approximately 2,235 wellbeing calls between April and October 2020 last year when the pandemic first hit. The service proved to be a lifeline for many blind and partially sighted people.

The RNIB Connect Facebook page grew by 42 per cent and like a lot of organisations, it adapted to virtual groups and activities delivering on average 25 online and telephone groups each week with around 130 people attending.

John Tan was one of them and while he is delighted to be meeting people in person again, he also admits that as hard as the lockdown was, he felt more connected to people than he ever did as he immersed himself in the many online and virtual activities orchestrated by RNIB’s Community Connection Team.

John, who is retired, said: “Lockdown was restrictive but RNIB have been excellent in organising a wide variety of talks and virtual events. I was able to meet online with others with sight loss in areas I never would have been able to in person and was sometimes participating in two or three online events per day. In one of the musical groups, we even had someone with sight loss who lived in Texas, USA!”

John lives with his wife Rosemary in Coleraine and he has the sight condition Retinitis pigmentosa or RP. “I’m partially sighted but my vision is deteriorating badly,” explained John. “I can see but everything is blurred so getting around can be challenging. I use a long white cane, which I find helpful.”

Jonathan Adams added: “I’m glad to see people back out more from a perspective of mental health and providing those who have experienced loneliness and isolation, a sense of community and comradery again in a safe environment whilst following Covid guidelines.

“As RNIB Community Access Workers, we don’t run groups as such, so we are at the discretion of our partners regarding return, however our objective here is to work with organisations in creating inclusive or specific opportunities for those with sight loss. I know we will see more and face-to-face, but it will take time, care and planning.”

The bowling group meets every Monday morning from 10:15am – 12pm at Coleraine Bowls club, Lodge Road, Coleraine, and there are two spaces still available. Anyone interested in joining can email: [email protected] or phone 07711 190 440.

To find out more about any of the other activities for blind and partially sighted people across the province, contact the RNIB Helpline on 0303 123 9999, or email [email protected].