Glasses on a brown desk

I have worked for Support 4 Sight for 14 years and have enjoyed being a part of a great organisation, supporting many people with sight loss, their families and carers.

Support 4 Sight was there for me when I moved to the area from Devon in 1998. I didn’t really know many people in the area until I was introduced to the Charity.

It was just at the right time for me as I had been through a difficult period in my life and the support and help I received from Support 4 Sight was invaluable, setting me off on a new chapter and journey in my life. I started off as a Service User, receiving much support from the volunteers and other people with sight loss. As time moved on, it gave me the confidence to become a volunteer which meant that I could start to give something back.

Sight Loss can affect many people in many ways. It can be sudden through an accident or happen gradually over time or, as in my case is congenital. My eye condition, Retinitis Pigmentosa Inversa, affects my central vision and has, over the years left me with around 97% of vision loss. I lost all my central vision within one month and the rest deteriorated over many years.

My journey through sight loss has been long, difficult and has impacted heavily on my life. I have been through a grieving process and several periods of emotional stress and difficulties.

Things that I used to be able to do were made difficult if not impossible. As I grew up, a lot of my friends went off following their dreams, learning to drive, going to University, enjoying a good social life and getting jobs. I felt very inadequate and struggled emotionally to cope with this as A that time, the technology and assistance that is now available wasn’t out there.

From the age of 8 I attended the West of England School for the Blind in Exeter where I was a Boarder. This impacted emotionally as I had to leave my family and whilst the education was good and the environment safe, when I left at age 16 I felt very much on my own, thrust into the big wide world.

After leaving school, I had a variety of jobs. I spent time labouring for my Dad on building sites, not a job I would recommend for someone struggling with sight loss. Cars have always been a passion for me and the nearest I could get was working in a local garage in my home town, serving petrol and assisting in the Workshop. There were still barriers that I had to find a way around as obviously I was unable to drive but this job enabled me to work in an environment which was of real interest to me.

I then moved on to valeting new and used cars for the garage and their customers. Unfortunately I was made redundant and as part of the redundancy package, I was given all the cleaning materials and equipment and decided to set up my own business in the town. I successfully ran this for 10 years with the help of my colleagues from the garage.

I loved working for myself and built the business by word of mouth with no advertising. Sadly, towards the end of the 10 years when I was in my 30’s, my sight started to deteriorate, I received comments such as;“I hoped you would have got the stain out of the seat and the scratch off of the door”. I couldn’t see them anymore, I was charging for a service that I could no longer provide. It was at this point that I had to make a life changing decision to do something different.

Following this sudden deterioration in my level of sight, I went through this very difficult time of grieving, but with the support of family and friends, I decided to re-train and learn new skills. I went to a rehabilitation centre called Manor House, in Torquay and then on to the Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford for two years. Both these places were a great boost to my confidence, as I learnt new skills and gained qualifications to equip me to go forward in life. I took a year out, to re-enforce my new mobility skills and to build my self-confidence, before moving forward to take up new challenges.

I have a mixed range of hobbies which include cooking, going to the theatre in London, listening to a wide variety of music, watching and attending many types of motor sports, sampling and enjoying good food, wine, beer and of course, walking in the countryside or at the coast with my guide dog Tilly and my retired guide dog Nessie.

I enjoy short breaks in the UK and holidays abroad. I also get involved in fundraising activities especially if it is something a little risky such as 4×4 off road driving, tandem rides, abseiling and gliding! I love technology and sharing my knowledge with others in a similar situation as myself. Technology has opened so many doors for those with a visual impairment.

I can certainly endorse this as much of this technology allows me to do my job and give back to others something that I was so grateful to receive in my time of need.

If you would like to find out more about my journey through sight loss, the barriers and hurdles that I had to overcome, please contact me at Support 4 Sight.

Paul Atkins

Centre & Volunteer Manager