Part of NCS involves getting chance to learn about and try out various way young people can volunteer and make a difference. Rebecca reports from a training session on one group’s Home Residential.
Following last week’s visit to Kent for a closer look at nature, Terry and I went down to Ashford to join young people from the Challenger Troop doing a training session with Guide Dogs, the UK charity dedicated to improving the lifestyles of people who are blind or partially sighted.
First of all, we did some exercises to work out the everyday things that might be difficult if we were blind or partially sighted, and how it might make us feel. Then we thought about all the things that could help us with any of those difficulties. It was a really interesting exercise and luckily we had a very smart group to do the thinking.
After this, we learned about all the different things that the charity Guide Dogs does – and it definitely isn’t just about training and giving dogs to people. They also raise money for research, give advice and support on helping blind or partially sighted people to get around more easily, and of course they have a brilliant sighted guide programme that trains people to act as guides for places and situations where a dog can’t go.
Then came the exciting part – pairing-up and taking it in turns to guide a blindfolded partner around the hall and grounds. To do this really well meant thinking about all sorts of things a sighted person might not normally notice, like a change in surface from pavement to grass, which way a door opens, and the height of the kerb. Luckily we had Jen and Wendy from Guide Dogs to help us out, reminding us to let the guided person hold our arm just above the elbow, and warn about even slight dips in the road, which might feel much bigger if you’re not expecting them. I was quite scared at first putting the blindfold on, but Terry turned out to be an excellent guide and we even made it up and down the (tiny) staircase safely. Having done this training, it is possible to go on and complete more stages of Sighted Guide training, maybe even becoming fully qualified guides who volunteer regularly (though you have to be over 18 for this).
Just to make the day even more memorable we had the company of a trainee guide dog, 9 month old Hester, and her friend Harry the golden retriever. Harry and Hester are both looked after by Wendy, who is a big part of Hester’s training until she goes away for the final stages before being placed with an owner. The guide dogs have to be able to walk through busy areas and stay focussed to keep their owner safe, so we learned that it is important not to distract or fuss over a guide dog (however cute they look) but we did get to say hello! Everyone hopes Hester finishes her training and goes on to become a great guide dog for someone, and hopefully some of the Challenger Troop will go on to become Sighted Guides, too.