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John Gainham’s story - Community Connection and ECLO volunteering

John Gainham has been volunteering in the West Midlands, originally supporting the local ECLO service and then volunteering with Community Connection at the Erdington Sight Loss Support group. John took the time to speak with us on his last day of volunteering to share some of his experiences and why he won’t rule out coming back to volunteer.

John, and his wife Pam

How John followed the signs to become a RNIB volunteer

I had an Auntie that lived near the Beacon Blind Centre in Sedgley, Wolverhampton, and as a young boy I recall seeing young people and adults attending the centre. It left a lasting impression when my parents explained sight loss to me. That that was the starting point for me.

I used to work for a major PLC and recall recruiting a young woman with an eye condition. Within a few months of working with us she explained that our web site was not accessible for blind and partially sighted people. As part of a wider initiative to drive greater diversity, inclusivity, and equality, we engaged with RNIB to develop the website and make it accessible for blind and partially sighted people.

I enjoyed working with RNIB on this project, and recall being invited to the Peterborough office to look at some of the technical innovations that were being developed, and at the time one of those was easier access to ATM machines by using braille.

Not long after the web site project was completed, I retired and soon applied to become a volunteer with RNIB.

Meeting new people through volunteering

The RNIB staff that I have worked with over the last 6 years have been excellent, especially Val Humphries, Sarah Higgins, Amy Woodward and Anna Hiscox; their support and enthusiasm for the work that they do has been incredible.

I first started volunteering with Val at the Sense Building in Selly Oak, Birmingham. I was calling people that had recently come out of hospital or had some exposure to the Eye Clinic Liaison Officers (ECLOs), and my job was to follow up and to make sure everything they needed was in place and to get their feedback in terms of the level of care that they were provided with.

For the past two years I have been working with the Erdington Sight Loss Support Group. I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the group, they have been truly inspirational, and hopefully I have made a small contribution along the way!

RNIB provide a range of speakers to address the meetings, and I have found them to be very informative and educational. Colin from The Technology For Life Team gave an excellent presentation last year and bought along a range of new products that help to improve the daily life of blind and partially sighted people.

At our meeting in December two members of the group arranged for their former music teacher to join us, and not only did we discuss the impact that music had on their lives, but he also bought along his guitar and played a few songs. A great time was had by all!

What John has taken from his time spent volunteering

I realised I knew very little about sight loss when I first started volunteering and was often embarrassed to ask questions. I didn't realise just how many types of eye conditions there are, but I soon realised that most members of the group are more than happy to discuss them in detail. The meetings give them a forum to discuss any issues that they’ve faced and to share solutions. On reflection volunteering has given me a much greater education and awareness, and I often think that I have taken more out than I ever put in.

That’s why I enjoy the volunteering work. I help in a very small way, and when driving home, I often reflect on these meetings and the people with a sense of respect and amazement. Everyone's got a different story and I think that's what draws me to want to give my time and support in whatever way I can.

Happy retirement, John!

I’ve attended my last meeting and received a lovely card and gift from Sarah, Val, Anna and the members of the Erdington Sight Loss Support Group. It was a lovely gesture and I realise how fortunate and privileged I have been to work with such a great group of people, and its for all of these reasons that I wouldn’t rule out coming back at some point in the future.