A Blind Centre Volunteer
Taking on the role of deputy manager at a local club for the blind has given Diane Abbott a unique insight into visual impairment.
For the last 20 years I have worked as a nanny for a family with two children and as they grew older, the demands on my time reduced. This was when a friend persuaded me to volunteer at the Watford Social Centre for the Blind.
To be honest, I wasn’t too sure to begin with, but Susan was very persuasive so I decided to give it a go, agreeing to help with the Wednesday lunch club.
Nowadays, I am the deputy manager of the Club and spend three days a week there. On a typical day I am in early to open up and make sure the urn is on for tea and coffee, the hall is tidy and tablecloths are on the table. We always have volunteers on hand to help as the members arrive.
We make sure everyone is welcomed and settled. We have a variety of activities in place including keep fit, computer classes, Braille classes, crafts, dominoes, Scrabble (with a raised board) and lots of socialising.
Sometimes people need a hand to fill in a form, read a letter, write a letter, that sort of thing and we can do that. I have had to learn Braille and I take a class to help those who want to learn it, too. I once stood blindfolded balanced on one leg. Try it – it’s not easy but it gives you an idea of what our members have to cope with.
On a Wednesday we have a lunch club so we make sure the food is prepared in time. We stick to the tried and trusted favourites such as sausage and mash or shepherd’s pie. And, of course, there is always tea and cake.
Sometimes we have a guest speaker or a choir or school children come round to visit. Other times the volunteers will do a turn and entertain. It’s great when the members stand up and do a piece, too. And it is quite humbling when they have learned a new poem or song – not easy when you can’t see the words.
Every six weeks we have a chiropodist attend and visiting therapists offering reflexology, manicures, eyebrow tidying, hand massage – little treats for some but essential to other members.
Then, of course, we have to make sure that everyone gets home safely. We have less formal gatherings on Mondays and Fridays and again tea and cake is available.
We organise outings throughout the year to places we can visit by bus that are easily accessible and where we can get a nice lunch or afternoon tea – gardens, Windsor, river cruises, bowling, local golf clubs – they are all on the list.
We have a mix of people who have been blind from birth and members who have lost their sight later in life and it is great to see them mixing and the quiet ones coming out of their shells and relaxing and having fun.
Often people who lose their sight later on have problems coming to terms with this and we do what we can to support them.
In addition to our usual club activities, we organise two holidays a year to places like Eastbourne. Some come on their own while others bring family, friends or carers.
We are not carers. I like to think we are enablers and one of the most important things I have learned is to stand back and allow independence. We help our group focus on what they can do, not what they can’t.
I have had some very happy times with my work here and, of course, there have been sad times, too. We all feel it when there is bereavement or someone is too ill to attend, but I have had a lot of laughs and made some great friendships over the years.
The Watford Social Centre
For The Blind, Cross Street, Watford WD17 2QD. For more information telephone
07932 746181 or visit www.watfordblindcentre.org.