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Rob’s shown the ropes for hobby

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Partially-sighted Rob Bywater was more than happy to try his hand at a new activity.

Having limited vision has never stopped Rob Bywater from pursuing a variety of hobbies.

Rob, 36, is an accomplished ice skater, learnt to play the guitar, went cycling across the Black Forest in Germany and is a regular runner and gym goer.

And his latest venture is becoming a bell ringer at St John The Evangelist Church in Whittle-le-Woods, near Chorley.

Rob, who is married to Davina and has a six-year-old son, Oliver, grins as he says: “Bell ringing is not just about going into a tower and pulling a rope.

“It is very complicated and some of the bells weigh a tonne.

“There is a sequence you have to ring, and if you don’t get it right it doesn’t work and it can be unsafe.

“You could break your wrist or get pulled into the air if you do it wrong.

“But if you do it properly, it is safe and very enjoyable.

“Bell ringing when you are registered blind is very challenging - but not impossible.

“You just need someone to show you the ropes!”

Rob, who lives in Chorley and works for Lancashire County Council, has never known what it is like to have full vision as he was just weeks old when his sight was lost.

Rob explains: “I was born with congenital cataractsm but because there was no family history of eye problems the doctors did not realise there was anything wrong.

“It was my mum who first spotted something was amiss when she was pushing me in my pram one day and noticed something in my eye which looked like a white spot.”

Rob’s mum took him to their GP, who referred him to a specialist and he underwent surgery when he was just a few months old.

Unfortunately for Rob, medical treatment for removing cataracts was not as good as it is now.

Rob says: “At the time, all they could do was a needling operation, which involved removing the cataracts from the eye using a needle.

“The procedure worked in clearing the cataracts, but unfortunately it destroyed the natural lenses in both my eyes.”

With a rueful smile, Rob adds: “Medical advances have come on so much that if I was born now my eyesight might be perfect.”

As a result, Rob has no memories of having full eye sight. He is partially sighted and is registered blind.

Rob says: “On a scale of one to 60, my best eye does not get above three.

“I have not got much sight in my right eye at all – I am almost blind.

“If I close my left eye, it is like looking out of a bathroom window which is heavily frosted.”

As a youngster, Rob tried to do everything his friends did and he went to a normal 
primary school.

Rob says: “I ran around like all the other kids, but when you have limited eyesight, accidents are going to happen and I was very accident prone.

“Things like football, cricket and rounders were difficult, and I could not play them so well.

“The teachers would do their best to encourage me and I was even in the football team.”

At the time, there was not as much technology to help partially sighted children, but then Rob’s school began using CCTV to help those with vision problems. This consisted of a television screen on the desk which magnified images.

Rob says: “I had one of these at school, but could not afford to have one at home.

“However, someone in the village where I lived organised fundraising and the community clubbed together and bought me one.

“I never let my sight get in the way of anything.”

When it came to secondary school, Rob was shown around a school for the blind in Liverpool.

However, he didn’t like it and wanted to go to the same school as all his friends, so went to St Augustine’s RC High School in Billington. As technology developed, things became better for Rob and he worked using a laptop.

Rob went on to study leisure and tourism management at Nelson and Colne College followed by a degree in international tourism management at the University of Central Lancashire, achieving a “first’.

It was while he was at university that Rob met wife Davina during a student night at nightclub Squires in Preston.

Rob recalls: “Davina realised my limited vision as soon as she met me. I worried that it might be a barrier, but it did not bother Davina in the slightest.

“I think there are some people it might put off, but luckily, not in Davina’s case.

“Davina was aware that there were situations where I would need help. But she also recognised my need for independence.

“I like to do things on my own and use the bus whenever I can, as Davina drives but I can’t.

“However, when we go on a night out, Davina drives and I can have a drink!”

Fatherhood posed some new challenges for Rob, but none that were insurmountable and he was adamant he wanted to be a hands-on father.

He even used a magnifying glass to read the measurements on bottles of formula so he could play an active role in feeding his baby son, Oliver.

Rob says: “Having a child when you are registered blind does present some challenges.

“One of these was the ability to take Oliver out on my own without Davina.

“How do you hold a white stick while pushing a buggy?”

“It can be quite stressful at times and there are new challenges all the time.

“If I ever took Oliver to a children’s soft play centre, while other parents would sit back with a brew I would not be able to do this as I wouldn’t be able to see him, so I would follow him around constantly.

“Oliver has never known anything different and is very aware of my vision problems. Sometimes he will tell me to be very careful.”

Rob has always enjoyed new challenges and has a real ‘have a go at anything’ mentality.

He explains: “I just like to experience lots of different things.

“When I was younger, I did guitar lessons and then I got into a fell walking club.

“I did the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme in bronze and silver and did most of my gold. Then I got into electronics and loved building devices using a soldering iron. I still enjoy this now and am building a radio.

“I got into ice-skating and did five or six grades in that and I also love cycling and have cycled around Germany’s Black Forest.

“I used to read using audio, but now use a Kindle, which has opened up a whole new world of reading to me.

“I love reading but the print is so big that it takes me months to finish a book. But I definitely prefer reading myself to listening to someone else talking, as you get to use your imagination more.

“I have also got into running over the last few years and run at lunchtimes or after work.

“I go running with a friend and she tells me where to go, but once forgot to point out a hedgerow so I ran straight into it!”

Rob’s wife, Davina, noticed in their church newsletter that they were looking for new bell ringers and told Rob she thought it was right up his street.

Rob says: “I thought it looked interesting and that I would give it a go.

“Bell ringing is complicated enough without adding severe sight problems to the equation.

“Even getting up to the tower was a hurdle.

“I did one-to-one sessions with the tutor David Briggs for several weeks and I have now graduated to ringing in rounds with other bell ringers.

“There is nothing else like bell ringing. It is hard to describe how enjoyable and relaxing it is.

“It is a challenge bell ringing with a visual impairment, as most bell ringers usually look at what their fellow bell ringers are doing so they know what they are doing next.

“However, I used my hearing as well as my limited sight and David Briggs was a great tutor and improvised a lot to teach me in the best way.

“I love a challenge and testing myself by pushing myself that bit further.

“I have all sorts of hobbies, but bell ringing is definitely my most unusual one!”

 

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