Losing your independence and ability to drive somewhere is the harsh reality people face when they lose their sight.
But Galloway’s Society for the Blind works hard to ensure its members experience the thrill of the road twice a year by holding driving days at Three Sisters Race Track in Ashton-in-Makerfield, near Wigan.
Driving instructors allow blind and partially sighted people behind the wheel in dual controlled cars, whilst those who like life in the fast lane drive are whizzed around the race track in sporty and classic cars.
There was even an Iceland articulated lorry out on the track.
James Coulton, audio services and outdoors activity co-ordinator for Galloway’s, said: “We are giving people who have lost their sight the opportunity to drive, whether it is for the first time, or they have lost their ability and miss it.
“We have been told one of the biggest things people miss is being able to drive, whether it be for fun or to get from place to place.
“The drivers give up their time for free and classic car owners allow our members to sit in their cars while they drive them.
“Three Sisters lets us have the track for free. The only thing we have to fund is the insurance, which is £2,000.”
John Parry, of Parry’s Driver Training, in Skelmersdale, is one of the instructors, allowing partially sighted people to drive in his dual controlled Ford. He said: “I have been involved in the driving days for nine years. I enjoy every moment. Some of the people at Galloway’s have recently lost their sight and so now can’t drive, whilst others have been blind since birth and have never experienced it.
“People who have lost their sight really feel the impact when they are told they can’t drive.
“To have this chance gives them excitement and enjoyment for the day. There is no better feeling than knowing you have allowed someone who had not been able to drive this opportunity.
“The cars are dual controlled so drivers can take over if needed. But the Galloway’s members tend to be very good because they listen to our instructions. “Their other senses take over. Some have partial sight and can see some of the track so can enjoy driving with a passenger.”
Yasin Patel, 32, of Preston, became registered blind when he was a teenager after being diagnosed with a hereditary condition – retinitis pigmentosa (RP).
He said: “I have some sight – it is like a pin hole through a piece of paper, with tracing paper over it. But it is obviously not good enough to drive.
“I really enjoyed the experience. You really have to concentrate and take instruction at the same time, whilst being aware of your surroundings. I still wanted to be able to see what I was doing seeing as I was in control of I car, which is only human, but I had a good instructor, who made me feel comfortable. I am really grateful to have been given the opportunity to do this.
“This was my second time – I first did this three years ago and I have also driven round Silverstone in a Ferrari.”
Peter Galloway, 55, of Bamber Bridge, was delighted to be a passenger in a classic Ford Mustang.
He said: “It was a very nice experience. I was in that car last year when I took part in the driving day.
“It was very emotional as I am really interested in cars. I used to own an American Chrysler 300 before I lost my sight last year.
“I also had motorbike and I was a lorry driver for 30 years. Norman, the owner of the Ford Mustang, had imported the car from America. He really enjoyed sharing it with me and as I have such an interest in cars, it was nice for him to be able to talk about it with me. I suffered a blood clot in my brain last year, which caused damage to the nerve and there was nothing anyone could do.”
Offering support for more than 150 years
Galloway’s is one of Lancashire’s oldest charities.
Established in Preston in 1867, it has been supporting people living with sight loss for more than 150 years.
Today, the charity covers Lancashire and Sefton and supports more than 7,000 people every year. As well as its main site in Penwortham, Galloway’s is located in 1 Farrington Street, Chorley; 12 Victoria Street, Morecambe, and 22 Wright Street, Southport.
The services offered are in seven key areas:
•· Early reach support for newly diagnosed people
• Accessible information, advice and guidance
• Holidays and trips
• Social and community groups
• Audio services, including one of the UK’s largest Talking Newspaper services
• Seven independent living bungalows
• Equipment to enhance daily living
Galloway’s is a registered charity and has to raise £1m this year to maintain its services.
It now needs £50,000 for a new minibus to transport its service users to the centre in Penwortham and to social outings.
The Post has launched a campaign - Gallowheels - in conjunction with Galloway’s to raise £50,000.
To make a donation visit www.galloways.org.uk/gallowheels;
Call: 01772 744148 or send a cheque payable to Galloway’s to: Galloway’s Society for the Blind, Howick House, Howick Park Avenue, Penwortham, PR1 0LS.
• Are you holding any fund-raising events to support Galloway’s?
Let us know by emailing email@example.com
• Galloway’s is hosting a sight loss conference for anyone needing support at Leyland Civic Centre on November 23, from 10am until 3pm.
To book a place call 01772 744148.