Every 15 minutes someone is told they’re going to permanently lose their sight, and by 2020 the number of people living with sight loss in Lancashire is projected to increase to 44,780.
Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in adults, but growing problems of obesity and diabetes, which can cause sight loss, compound the problem.
Charity Galloways, which has centres in Penwortham, Chorley, Morecambe and Southport, has decided to increase its support and annual running costs have risen from £800,000 to £1m in 18 months.
Stuart Clayton, the charity’s chief executive, said fundraisers are finding their task increasingly difficult, and are appealing to the people of Lancashire for help.
He said: “We decided to invest from our reserves to get services up and running, but over the next year we have to reach a target figure of £1m to make sure we deliver. If our expenditure exceeds what we have there will be a problem.
“We do get money from renting out offices, from grants and a statutory income, so out of the million we’re looking to raise £600,000 to £700,000 and I’m urging the generous people of Lancashire to support us in any way they can.”
Galloway’s offers services including specialist equipment and advice, a talking newspaper, training, escorted holidays and short trips, outdoor activities and support groups.
Those who use the charity’s resources say they are a lifeline. Bill Proctor, 80, of Leyland suffers sight loss and is a regular visitor to Galloway’s. He said: “I can’t thank Galloway’s enough for the help they have given me. The staff at Galloway’s are always welcoming and have helped me in so many practical ways.
“They helped me get the right advice when my world was decreasing on a daily basis; they have sorted me out with equipment that helps me to live more independently. It feels like I have been set free.
“Sometimes, it’s not always easy to leave the house – if it’s icy for example, but I know if I give them a call, they are always available if and when I need them.”
Stuart said their work has become even more vital because cuts to local authority and health services mean people face “falling through gaps” for support at the critical point of diagnosis.
He added: “There is a link between sight loss and reduced wellbeing. Over one-third of older people with sight loss are also living with depression. The provision of emotional and practical support at the right time can help people who are experiencing sight loss to retain their independence and access the support they need.
“Equally, when someone experiences sight loss it is vital for them to have support in their homes and communities. Galloway’s has increased numbers of fully trained staff and is growing the number of trained volunteers to provide this support.
“We are also hoping to get out into the community more and we need demonstration equipment to do this. Specialist equipment can be expensive and we aim to provide more equipment on loan to help individuals with the financial burden.
“We want to be able to promote and expand our talking newspaper service to ensure that visually impaired people have access to information that sighted people take for granted. At present we send out in excess of 55,000 recordings a year but we know there are many people who do not even know about the service.”
Donations can be made by calling 01772 744148, texting GALL25 £(insert chosen amount) to 70070 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘It’s about emotions, financial impact and information’
Bob Mills of Walmer Bridge was diagnosed with glaucoma - a build up of pressure in the eye that affect vision - in 1978 and his vision has deteriorated since.
Now 81, he has no sight in his right eye and reduced vision in his left, being able to make out blurred shapes only.
He said: “When you get that diagnosis that you’re going to be blind, there are three important factors. They are your emotional reaction, the financial impact, and information.
“In terms of emotion I was lucky because it developed slowly and I was able to adapt, but of course everyone reacts differently. Financially it was a blow. At the time I was registered blind in the early 80s I was earning £300 a week as a ship broker on Preston Docks. When I had to give up and went unemployment pay and then disability pay, I was getting £47.50 a week. Thirdly is information. When you get the diagnosis its day-in-day out for the people at the hospital, it’s not a disaster for them like it is for you.
“I found myself pushed out to somebody else and the lack of information knocks the stuffing out of you. When I was registered blind I rang social services and they noted my name and address and came to see me and that was about it.
“It wasn’t until I contacted Galloways that I started to get information. They told me how to access help and told me ways of doing things.
“Just boiling the kettle or buttering a slice of toast are extremely difficult to do, but you can do them if you are shown how.”
He added: ““Everything takes a little bit longer and you don’t appreciate things until you’re in that situation. But you can do a lot with blindness, you just need to get the help.”