Living in a world where it is difficult to see is a scary place.
So it is important for people to have a safe space to meet and share their experiences.
The Visual Impairment Forum for the Lancashire Area is an inclusive group of visually impaired and blind people, set up in 2004 by Lancashire County Council ROVI team (Rehabilitation officers for visual impairment) to improve the quality of their services.
During 2006, Lancashire County Council Community Engagement Team was established to connect communities to the council.
The direction of the forum shifted since then, from rehabilitation to a much wider variety of additional issues surrounding community to campaign and influence services for people with visual impairment, such as highways, peer support, transport accessibility, sign posting and engaging with the local communities.
As the group works closely together with partners and providers to improve quality of services, it holds community events under the umbrella Stronger Together, raising awareness of issues which affect the visually impaired and blind community and promoting eye health.
I have found it very hard without my sight. I was completely housebound until I got a guide dog in 1997.Chris Tattersall
The group also meets bi-monthly at Preston County Hall from 12.30pm until 2.30pm.
During the meetings, there is a chance for people to socialise, as well as listen to guest speakers in a more formal setting.
David Hinchliffe, of Deepdale, is the club’s vice chairman. The 45-year-old was born with water on the brain, and after a shunt was inserted in his head to drain spinal fluid, it caused a blockage, resulting in him losing sight in his right eye and having limited vision in his left eye.
He says: “The meetings are generally two-and-a-half hours long, The first bit is dedicated to general socialising and then we have guest speakers.
“We have been doing a lot of work with councillors and recently we have been focusing on issues surrounding highways.
“The meetings offer an opportunity for other people from the sight loss community to share experiences, as one of the main issues is becoming isolated. This can impact on your mental health, as well as your physical and sensory health.
“These meetings are invaluable for networking and planning new activities and campaigns.
“We have people who have lived with sight loss for more than 40 years and some who have only just recently lost their sight,
“Some people are cane users, whilst others have guide dogs. Some people are clued up on technology and all the latest aids, whilst others are not.
“The forum is growing all the time and we have started to put on community events in partnership with Chorley Borough Council Equality Forum, which provide a lot of information to users.”
Chris Tattersall, 65, of Clitheroe, is another active member, who also helped to set up Ribble Valley Visual Impairment group 20 years ago.
He says: “I lost all my sight at the age of 40 when I was diagnosed with chronic optic neuropathy through a virus.
“It has damaged my optic nerve so I have no vision. I have found it very hard without my sight.
“I was completely housebound until I got a guide dog in 1997. Then I was able to get to Bolton Community College and learn braille. I am now teaching that at five centres across East Lancashire with charity Braille IT, where I am chairman.
“I am also chairman of the Ribble Valley VI group which I helped to set up as a rural area, we are quite cut off.
“I really enjoy attending the forums as I meet other people with similar conditions.
“We have also worked hard in getting bus passes for visually impaired and disabled people to be able to travel before 9.30am. We also helped to keep the talking books after the Lancashire County Council was planning to stop subscriptions.
“A year later, the RNIB made the service free.”
PHOTOS BY PAUL EDWARDS