Jan and Suzanne
Jan P and Suzanne B were partnered up through Guide Dogs My Sighted Guide service, a project which helps blind or partially sighted people get out and about. The idea is to build confidence by matching someone with a sighted person who can support them to explore their local area, try new activities and provide help getting around.
The two have since become firm friends and explain all about how the service works.
“I heard about My Sighted Guide several years ago, when I had just moved to Exeter,” said Suzanne, who is registered severely sight impaired. “Finding a match was really helpful as I didn’t know anyone, and I had also just lost my sight fully. It came at the right time in my life.”
Suzanne was introduced to volunteer Jan through a Guide Dogs staff member. They then went for their first walk together around the local area.
“We hit it off straight away – luckily we both had the same interests. We would go to the cinema, cafes, go walking to the shops and things like that – we used to go every week and it helped me familiarise myself with the local area and get to know where things were. Jan was really good at describing things to me so I could get a sense of what was around me.”
Jan said she was keen to get involved with Guide Dogs as a volunteer, having volunteered at other local charities.
“I registered as a dog exerciser first which meant taking a guide dog out for an off-leash run once a week,” said Jan. “From there I heard about My Sighted Guide as another volunteer role.
“I did all the training and decided it was something I would like to do, and shortly afterwards I was matched with Suzanne.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but when I met Suzanne it was obvious to me that we were like-minded, she was good fun and we just hit it off! We talked about what she wanted to achieve through the project and I knew I could help.”
Jan said it was also a chance for her to explore her home city further.
“Even though I’ve lived in Exeter all my life, I also learned more about the local area. I also gained a different insight into the obstacles presented to people with sight loss and how they manage those.
“As we walked, I would explain where we were, what shops were around and a bit about the area. We would talk about the local history, I explained where the museum was and the cathedral. It gave me a purpose for exploring the city. It was very special.”
While Covid meant they had to switch to phone calls during lockdown rather than going out and about, they were able to get back to face to face visits as restrictions lifted. Suzanne was also matched with guide dog Alice.
“When we were allowed to meet again, I had to maintain a 2-metre distance from Suzanne. So to enable this to happen, we agreed that I would walk the routes that Suzanne had been learning with her new guide dog so that she could continue building her confidence in walking them. We also learnt a new route to the vets. This involved me giving instructions and generally just providing extra support. It was lovely just to have that human contact,” said Jan.
“As the restrictions changed and changed again, we continued to adapt our partnership so that we could maintain contact by the appropriate means.”
Now, Suzanne and Jan have concluded their sighted guiding partnership.
“Having Alice has really changed things,” said Suzanne. “I’m out and about every day now. I can pick up prescriptions for my neighbours whereas it used to be the other way around, with them getting things for me! But now I can help out as I’m a lot more independent. And part of that was thanks to Jan helping me build up my confidence.”
The pair remain great friends and still meet up regularly. Both Suzanne and Jan recommend the My Sighted Guide service as a way to build up confidence and independence.
“I definitely recommend the service,” said Suzanne. “In fact, I just told my sister, who also has sight loss, to get involved. She used to have a guide dog but she’s now without one and I thought a sighted guide could help. But more than that, Jan and I are now great friends and still see each other regularly.”
Jan said it’s a particularly rewarding volunteering role.
“It makes you feel that you’re making a difference and giving back to the community, being able to help someone out in a way that enriches their life. It also makes you appreciate your own independence and how unaware the general public are of the challenges for people with sight loss.
“I’m more aware of how things can have an impact on people who are blind or partially sighted, like pavement parking, e-scooters or electric cars. It’s very humbling but at the same time rewarding. It’s really worthwhile, and it can be life-changing for people.”
Find out how you can become a My Sighted Guide volunteer