My “lockdown” experience ….. with Alison Evans

If anyone had told us all at the beginning of March that our lives were about to change almost overnight, I am not sure we would have believed them. From 23 March life has been very different for most people and it has certainly bought about some changes and obstacles for my partner Mick and I. We are both severely visually impaired, and although some of the restrictions are now easing, life will continue to be very different for us and many other blind and partially sighted people both nationwide and worldwide.

From a professional point of view, I have had to learn to manage staff remotely and quickly learn all about the Furlough scheme and conducting all meetings via Zoom. From a personal point of view, life has been quite different, no gym, no parkrun, no meeting up with friends, no eating out, no having my nails done, no visitors to our home, and no travel outside of Peacehaven to name but a few. Booking my weekly Tesco delivery became stressful but thanks to a campaign by Guide Dogs, all visually impaired individuals were able to register for priority slots. This was a huge relief, as I was not only shopping for Mick and me, but also for my Mum and a friend who was isolating at home.

As Mick and I both have guide Dogs, we have been fortunate, as at least we have been able to get out and walk everyday giving both the dogs exercise as well as ourselves. Even though I am working from home, I go out every morning so that Quizzie and I get a walk before starting work and again at lunchtime, just as we would if we were working from the office. My worry has been that with no parkrun and no gym, I would lose my fitness and even worse, pile on the pounds! Mick and I are both familiar with walking the streets of Peacehaven, something we both do daily, though I think both our dogs and us would like something a bit more varied and challenging at times.

We have been fortunate in that one of our friends, Carol whom parkrunners will know as she regularly marshalls from "Carol’s bench", has always joined us for walks around the park, at a 2 meter distance of course. It helps to have a pair of eyes when the dogs are off duty and having a good time being dogs. Some of you may have seen Carol out walking the streets too as she often takes one of our dogs out when she takes her daily exercise.

In the early days of the lockdown, it was wonderful being able to cross Sutton Avenue and other surrounding roads with ease, the peace and quiet was lovely. One drawback to this however was the fact that we often need to use the traffic in order to orientate ourselves. Fortunately we never got lost!

There are a number of difficulties which ourselves and other visually impaired people are facing especially where social distancing is concerned. Guide Dogs are not trained in social distancing and therefore we need to rely on passers-by to observe the social distancing guidelines when they walk past us. It is amazing how many people however take no notice and walk past us, as they would have done pre lockdown. Furthermore, Guide Dogs do not know how to queue, if we are going to a shop they are trained to find the door, not the end of the queue. To date we have been quite fortunate but I have heard reports of visually impaired people receiving abuse for supposedly pushing in at the front of the queue.

The 2 metre social distancing is a growing concern in the world of visual impairment. Trying to guide or be guided at a 2 metre distance is neither practical, reliable or necessarily safe, especially if trying to run at the same time.

Technology has certainly been a blessing, I have been able to attend my weekly Yoga class and Mick his Pilates via Zoom. Video calling family has been helpful when we have needed a pair of eyes to check things like sell-by dates, the floor when one of the dogs was unwell, and identify the contents of a wrongly delivered Amazon parcel! We are fortunate in that there is an app on our phones we can use for scanning and reading short items such as letters but for me, the hardest thing will be on my birthday, usually my Mum would come round and read my cards for me, something she will not be able to do this year, I am just hoping the weather will be fine enough for me to take my cards to her garden instead. Another obstacle I incurred was when I had a form which required a signature and could not be guided in the usual manner as to where I needed to sign. Not using cash in the shops has also been tricky at times as it is not easy finding the card reader and knowing where to place the card for contactless payments. I often have to hand my card over in order to make the payment and to prevent me from demolishing the counter display!

I have not been on a bus since my last day in the office which was 20 March, it is probably the longest time I have ever spent not getting on a bus and I have certainly missed seeing my regular bus buddies. Again, this is something which concerns me, how will I know where to sit, how will I know where to stand at the bus stop and board the bus so that I can ensure I am observing social distancing.

For me, I want to believe that eventually the day will come when we will be able to return to the “old normal” but with the hope that if we do, we will have learnt a few lessons on the way. If It is amazing how people have pulled together to help one another and devised all sorts of ideas and initiatives and it would be a shame for these to left by the wayside. AlthoughI am enjoying my lay-in on a Saturday morning, I look forward to the day when parkrun can resume. I often find myself envious of those people who run past me when I am out and wishing it were me! It will also be lovely to see the rest of our Peacehaven parkrun family again.

Alison Evans