Competition | Design a Guide Dogs Discovery Den and impact lives like Penny's
Learn how you can take action and raise awareness of sight loss within Scouting through Beaver Leader Penny’s inspiring story
As part of the A Million Hands campaign, Scout Groups across the country are working in partnership with the charity Guide Dogs to raise awareness and improve the lives of young people and adults living with sight loss. Your Scouts can get involved by taking part in an exciting competition to design a new Discovery Den which will help young people understand what it’s like to live with sight loss.
Beaver Leader Penny has a vision impairment. She recently spoke to us about Scouting as a leader with sight loss and how life-changing having a guide dog has been for her.
Can you explain to us what your disability is?
I’m very short-sighted. I have limited vision in one eye and my other eye is a prosthetic. I tend to see things at the same time as I hit them, so mobility is a bit of a challenge.
How long have you had a vision impairment for?
I was probably born with limited vision - it was picked up when I was about six months old. I went to a special school from the age of five and in those days that’s how you were educated if you had sight loss; you went to boarding school with other kids with sight loss.
Have you always had guide dogs then?
I’ve had a guide dog since I was 19-years-old. When I was growing up, guide dogs could only support adults so it wasn’t possible to have one, but there’s no age restriction now. As soon as I could, we applied and I was accepted.
Have you always liked dogs?
Yeah I’m huge animal lover and for me it was just perfect to have a guide dog.
When did you first get Clova?
She is guide dog number eight, and I’ve had her now for five and half years. She is nearly seven-years-old and is a small black Labrador with a grey chin.
How does she help you?
There are three main things that she does. The obvious thing is that she guides; so when I am out and about, the first thing she does is make sure that I stop whenever I get close to a curb or step so that I don’t fall and she does that very reliably. She does not make the decision of when to cross the road. I listen out for the cars coming and then I'll tell her when I’m ready to cross. She also makes sure that I don’t walk into any obstacles. Clova navigates around obstacles and finds room for me to avoid them. She indicates when there is a problem by sitting down and waiting. If I’m shopping and I visit a shop that she’s been to before, I can ask her to find the door and she will take me to the door of that shop.
She also helps by giving me a lot of confidence when I’m with her. I’m not worried about walking down the road and if I do go slightly wrong and lose my way, Clova’s training means she’ll correct us and walk us down a route she knows. Even if it’s a road we’ve never been down before, I know she’ll keep me safe. I feel so much taller and braver when I’m with Clova. She also helps me to make friends. Wherever I go people love her and tend to help me; she’s a great icebreaker!
How would you describe yours and Clova’s relationship?
We are very close. It is an interdependent relationship; we help each other. Guide dogs bond with us as much as we bond with them and that’s what makes the partnership work. Most guide dogs will be guiding for three to four hours a day and the rest of the time they’re a beloved pet. It’s really important that they have fun and we reward them for keeping us safe by making sure they have fun.
Does Clova enjoy Scouting?
Clova loves Scouting. She is always excited to go; she loves the people. She’s a part of the Group and the Beavers love her.
How did you get involved in Scouts?
I got involved through my children. My son is an Explorer Scout and my daughter is a leader. When my son was a Cub, his local Scout Group’s committee was struggling and I was working at the time as a freelance administrator. They asked me if I would help support them and become a part of the committee. My husband was also a leader, so as a family we were really involved in Scouting. I became Chairman and then the Group Scout Leader stood down so I stepped in. I also took on a Beaver Leader role to give me the experience I needed to be able to plan Beaver Scout Programmes.
[Picture above: 7th Moreton Beavers with guide dog pups]
What challenges have you faced while volunteering?
One of the challenges I’ve come up against is parents worrying about their child’s safety with a blind leader. We had to get across that Scouting isn’t about one leader, but instead that we are team of leaders who work together. Beavers love painting and drawing, but I just can’t help with any of that, instead I help to come up with the Programme idea and I set up the activity, but I don’t lead on the activity.
If I do get involved in the activities, the Beavers love it! I like to think I bring a greater understanding of disability to the Beaver Colony. The Beavers have to think about how they communicate with me. For example, if they want to talk to me they have to first say who they are. If I need a bit of help from them, they are always happy to help me.
Camp is a bit of challenge for me because it’s usually at a place I don’t know. Avoiding guy ropes and finding the facilities can be tricky and that’s when I feel the most vulnerable; not the confident leader that I want to be. However, I have a great team; I explain to them what I can and can’t do and we work around it.
How do you think we can raise awareness about sight loss in Scouts?
We need to do more outreach – people may not realise that their son or daughter can join in Scouting even if they have a vision impairment.. I never thought I could do activities where I would be building things and using axes and saws! If you think about your Programme in advance, there are ways to make sure people with sight loss can join in the activities.
What other activities can you partake in if they are risk assessed?
I can do assault courses, I can use climbing walls and take part in crate stacking as well as light and build fires.
I would never have done the things I’ve done if it wasn’t for my guide dogs. They have given me the confidence to try.
Clova and I are doing life together and we get the most out of it together. Without a guide dog I would never have got involved in Scouting. I’m so proud to have a guide dog. People say to me, “oh you brought your dog to work”, and I say, “no my dog brought me to work”.
To enter the Discovery Den competition or to find out more, visit the Guide Dogs website – www.guidedogs.org.uk/amillionhands. The deadline of the competition closes on 11.59pm on Sunday 15 May 2016