Galloway's appeal: Minibus needed to help service users Get Active

Sophie Harrison goes sailing
Sophie Harrison goes sailing
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Having problems with your vision doesn’t mean you have to lead a lonely life indoors.

Sophie Harrison, who was born with a rare macular degeneration condition known as Stargardt’s disease, gets out as much as she can - both independently and with Galloway’s Society for the Blind’s Get Active programme.

Sophie Harrison at Whernside

Sophie Harrison at Whernside

The 25-year-old, from Fulwood, relies on the charity’s minibus and volunteers to pick her up and take her to a variety of activities,

She says: “I had my eyes checked earlier this year and being honest the optician was not very tactful. I was left feeling very upset and so I got in touch with Galloway’s to do more active and social events.

“Galloway’s has a Get Active programme and there are many activities to do.

“We go on local walks, climbing mountains in the Lake District, climbing at West View Leisure Centre and water sports such as windsurfing, canoeing and kayaking with the Eric Wright Foundation at Old Conniston.

Members of Galloway's Society for the Blind's Get Active programme at The Old Man of Coniston

Members of Galloway's Society for the Blind's Get Active programme at The Old Man of Coniston

“I can’t drive so the minibus picks me up every time I go an these activities.

“There have been times when I have been going on day trips two to three times a week and the minibus definitely helps.

“We really could do with a bigger and better minibus, because, with the amount of times we all use it, it is very important.”

Sophie, who works in Debenhams, in Preston, was diagnosed with Stargardt’s disease when she was 17.

Members of Galloway's Society for the Blind's Get Active programme canoeing

Members of Galloway's Society for the Blind's Get Active programme canoeing

As she battled with opticians who told her there was nothing wrong with her eyes, she was relieved to finally get to the bottom of the truth.

She says: “I was having trouble seeing the board at school and so I went to see the opticians. They said there was nothing wrong with my eyes and even asked my mum if I was making it up. I was just told to wear glasses.

“Eventually I was referred to Chester Hospital and after four or five years of testing, I was finally diagnosed.

“I was relieved because I was no longer being told I was liar. There really was something wrong with me eyes and I was given support.

“My peripheral vision is okay but my central vision is poor. I can walk around but I can’t recognise faces and bus numbers.

“I often stick my hand out at a lorry when I am at a bus stop, rather than buses.

“I have to be realistic on what I can do. I have to depend on my memory to do things. If I am travelling to places I don’t know, I have to do a lot of planning.

“I need to use large print when reading and seeing food labels.

“I stick to what I know with food and never use a knife in case I cut myself.

“I live with my dad, but I try to do as much as I can myself.”

Sophie adds that sight loss does not just affect older people.

She says: “I am the youngest person at Galloway’s as people my age don’t tend to go there as they think it is just for old people - but I can assure them it is useful for all ages.

“There are some service users who are in their 30s and 40s.

“I have met a young Asian boy who is blind and another young boy who has sight problems.

“I also met two African sisters who are my age and have my condition, which is really rare. They use white canes.

“Young people and older people deal will sight loss differently.

“Young people who are born with a condition or get it early on it becomes part of them. But people who lose their sight later on have led a normal life.

“They have had a career, driven a car and now can no longer do that anymore. I think it affects them more.

“For me, it is part of who I am. I make the best of it as there is no cure or treatment.”

The Post has launched a campaign - Gallowheels - in conjunction with Galloway’s to raise £50,000 for a new minibus.

For previous stories click here /galloway-s-appeal-how-technology-has-advanced-to-support-visually-impaired-people-1-8844483
/galloway-s-appeal-the-importance-of-reaching-out-early-to-people-with-sight-loss-1-8832583
/galloway-s-appeal-the-challenges-of-getting-on-a-bus-1-8802173
/galloways-appeal-help-us-raise-50-000-for-charity-minibus-1-8770784

So far, readers have donated £5,000. Can you spare any more? To make a donation visit www.galloways.org.uk/gallowheels; Call: 01772 744148 Text: GALL25 £amount, £1, £2, £3, £4, £5 or £10, to 70070. 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 natalie.walker1@jpress.co.uk

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.