Can you give us a short introduction into the Big Blind Walk?
I am planning to walk nearly 1,000 miles up through Great Britain over 7 weeks, starting at Land’s End (Cornwall) on 29 April and finishing at John O’Groats (Scotland) on 22 June. Many people have completed this walk but as far as I know, nobody has been totally blind. I completed the John O’Groats to Land’s End cycle ride in 2010 so I now want to turn around and do it all again but this time getting up more close and personal with my surroundings and experience this at an average of 3mph and not 28mph on the back of a tandem! As I walk, I will be thinking of the “blind traveller”, a British naval officer who lost his sight in his mid twenties and travelled the world in the late 18th century, relying on the goodwill of others to get around.
How does the Big Blind Walk aim to raise awareness of sight loss and promote eye research?
The Big Blind Walk is a mental, physical and logistical challenge for anyone, but as someone with no sight, this adds a new dimension. Alongside meeting my key objectives of raising awareness of the impacts of sight loss, promoting eye research and creating a new research fund hosted by the National Eye Research Centre (NERC), this walk will show how widespread collaboration between patients, eye health professionals, public and the research community can introduce the wonders of eye research and the critical need to continue funding it to a wider population than ever before. I hope my walk will encourage a much greater understanding of the need for the blind and visually impaired to connect with the outdoors in support of mental well being and will encourage everyone to think about the importance of physical activity and the link between general good health and eye health.
As a blind person, what problems will you have to overcome when doing the walk?
I will be physically and mentally prepared for this walking challenge. However, the biggest issue for me will be communicating effectively with all my guides so that I avoid all obstacles along the route as well as during my downtime in the evenings. Every passing motorist, pothole, step, overhanging branch, change in gradient or fence post could spell disaster! My guides and I need to be totally alert to these hazards and more, at all times so we can keep the show on the road. I also need to enjoy the experience and suck up as much of my environment as possible as I walk through different landscapes and neighbourhoods so this means staying alert and learning as I walk and constantly communicating with the locals to enrich my experience. I plan to meet up with regional media and pre-arranged groups of eye health professionals and patients so again this will require split second timing and careful planning to deliver the necessary photo opportunities and interviews to the widest possible audiences.
How much are you looking to raise for doing the Big Blind Walk and who will be completing it with you?
I plan to raise up to £350,000 hosted and administered by my charity partner the National Eye Research Centre (NERC). I will be guided by friends and colleagues and accompanied by well wishers and keen walkers along the way. The positive reaction from NHS Trusts, eye clinics, high street opticians, patient support groups and an ever widening range of organisations active in supporting the blind and visually impaired and improving their access and experiences in the countryside has been amazing.
Why is it necessary to raise awareness of the importance of eye research?
On a daily basis, world class researchers are fighting to improve our understanding of the origins, patterns and processes of eye disease, detection and diagnosis and treatments and to develop rehabilitative technologies that improve the quality of life for patients.
However, the dominance of the “support sector” championed by some very large charities has ensured that the profile of eye research is low. Coupled with this, its image is unremarkable and its language is incomprehensible. As a result, the world of eye research has gone relatively unnoticed and is consequently underfunded in a world where medical research funding is fiercely competitive. The Big Blind Walk intends to change all that! I hope my walk will help develop narratives and platforms that will engage and enthuse potential donors and highlight the power and potential of eye research in giving sustainable solutions, hope, independence, mobility, financial independence and emotional well being to those wrestling with sight loss. Practical support for those wrestling with sight loss is critically important but this fact must not be allowed to sustain a mindset where only the symptoms of sight loss are managed and the “collateral damage” around sight loss is accommodated. We must also nail the causes of sight loss and only eye research can do that.
How has 100% Optical helped promote the Big Blind Walk?
I’m so grateful to 100% Optical for giving the bigblindwalk.com the platform to not only raise awareness of the social, economic and psychological impact of sight loss amongst a growing number of the UK population but also to promote and raise money for eye research, which I believe is one of the most underfunded areas of medical research and certainly one of the best kept secrets in the UK. The opportunity to explore synergies and speak in depth with exhibitors and visitors about the key objectives and messaging around my walk was invaluable. As a result, I have a number of pledges from individuals and corporates wishing to fundraise, promote and join me at various stages along the route. A big thank you to 100% Optical for their continuing and enthusiastic support in spreading the word about my walk amongst eye health professionals and suppliers to the optical sector.