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Hazel Hyland shares her volunteering story

Hazel Hyland sits on her sofa which is upholstered in grey fabric she is wearing a black top with a black and white shirt over the top.

Image of Hazel sitting on the sofa in her living room looking content.

Hazel Hyland, age 44 has been blind since birth and is based in Newcastle. Hazel has been volunteering for 30 years and she shared her story while volunteering for the Campaigns team and Talk and Support. We are delighted that since sharing her story, Hazel has now secured an employed role at RNIB and has joined the Community Connection North East team as a Community Connection Coordinator.

Starting volunteering for RNIB

“I joined the campaigns team at RNIB after volunteering initially with Newcastle Vision Support. My first project was the "Hardest Hit" campaign at the end of the 90s, which focused on Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and disabled people losing out on benefits.

Campaigning for accessible information

My recent involvement is with the Accessible Information Standards. I was one of the first people involved in putting it together in 2014 and was asked to help with a report on how people were finding it six years on. It’s so important that visually impaired people can read their appointment letters, to make sure they keep up to date with their treatment and don’t miss appointments.

Getting results

I was in the press with that one - the Newcastle Chronicle, and ITV Tyne and Tees got hold of the story, because I named and shamed a particular hospital and eye department. But for the very first time last week, I received one of my clinic letters in Braille. So, that for me is a huge achievement - because I can now see when I’m supposed to be taking my meds. I encourage people to be persistent, just keep going. Why would you let someone else read your letters to you, when with the right support, you can get the information correct in the first place.

I love the fact that I can make a difference - it might not be one voice that makes a difference, but a few of us saying enough is enough - that helps visually impaired people to feel included in society.

Developing campaigning skills

There’s a lot more to campaigning than writing letters - going on marches and publicity shoots - a key part of it is educating people. We’ve got something coming up next week for Road Safety Week to do with the e-scooters, so we’ll be educating the public on safer ways to ride and park them. It’s all very well saying to the government that trains need to be more accessible with onboard microphones, but without educating them and these companies as to why they need to do it, you just don’t get anywhere. You need to take it down to the basic grass roots, and the best people to do that is those who it’s going to affect.

When I first started campaigning, I thought I was just a small cog in the wheel and doubted that people would listen. But as my time with campaigning has gone on, you realise that there’s a lot to it - learning how to write to your MP, how to fill out surveys online, and how to communicate your message to the media. A lot of the skills that you gain in one area of volunteering, you can transfer to other areas.

Other volunteering roles

Recently I started volunteering as a Talk And Support facilitator: there’s a group of up to eight people on a phone conversation. They talk about everything, you just sit quietly in the background listening. As a facilitator, you need to make sure that you keep that air of authority and respect - so if you need to step in, they will listen to you. You’re given training into how to include everyone and get them involved, quite often you’ll find that other group members will do that for you. I’ve also been on the Volunteer Engagement Team, helping to look after the volunteers and giving them a chance to have a free space where they can get to know each other.

Volunteering as a route to employment

There’s some volunteering roles that you don’t have to leave the house for, until you feel comfortable - a lot of work like campaigning, you can do behind the scenes, just putting a post on Facebook, and sharing a campaign link. Eventually you’ll get to the stage where you might fancy getting involved in something else, and then you’re off.

If you’re looking for paid employment, the more up to date experience you can get as a volunteer, will stand you in better stead on your CV. Volunteering gives you the opportunity to gain different skills in varying roles. I was still in school when I first started volunteering, but during my adult life I’ve worked as well. You get to choose how much you put in, when you want to do it and how often. There’s so many opportunities out there to gain the experience.

Something that we’re putting back on the agenda again, is the Newcastle Streets Charter. I was part of that campaign, taking my MP on a blindfold walk with guide dogs and RNIB. It’s all a case of getting the word out there and saying, you have to make society liveable for those who can’t see.

Volunteering to me is all about giving something back to society. I would say give it a go, because it’s your own personal satisfaction as well, knowing that you’ve helped somebody who has been in this situation you’re in, but just needs that little bit of extra confidence to come out of their shell.”