With the new coronavirus lockdown measures in place, the volunteers at Guide Dogs had to think of new ways to support the people with sight loss that they usually see face to face.
Usually the My Guide service means that a trained sighted guide is partnered with someone with sight loss, to help them with things like running errands, practicing everyday routes, using public transport, or getting out to build confidence. There’s often an element of befriending too, just spending time together and doing things they both enjoy.
With the weekly meet ups no longer able to happen, some people with sight loss become more isolated until some of the Guide Dog volunteers found a way to continue with their role by staying in contact over the phone.
Cornwall-based My Guide volunteer Christine Gosling has been partnered up with Ruth Gray, who is severely sight impaired, for more than a year now. Ruth took up the My Guide service to help get out and about after her guide dog, Fizz, retired.
Christine explained what the pair would get up to in normal circumstances.
“Normally Ruth and I meet up weekly to go out and have lunch or afternoon tea. We’ll take the bus to Falmouth or Truro and go to a restaurant, where we chat and eat and chat some more! We do quite a bit of shopping and have a giggle. We’ll pick up some treats for Fizz or bring her with us if we can.
“We’ve probably missed one week in the whole year that we’ve been matched. Even Christmas week last year we went out. We really do get on like a house on fire.”
Ruth agreed that the pair had become friends outside of the My Guide service as well.
“On our first visit we were introduced by Serge [My Guide staff member at Guide Dogs] and we went out for a walk. We clicked straight away even on that first short walk – we had some things in common right from the start,” said Ruth.
“We get on so well together, we really are good friends now.”
Now, Christine and Ruth are keeping in touch over the phone as they must forgo their weekly visits.
Christine said: “From the minute lockdown started we’ve been ringing backwards and forwards – just chatting about anything and everything. We don’t have a problem making conversation. Guide Dogs did send some prompts to help people who weren’t used to talking on the phone – but I just kept giggling and Ruth said it was cutting into good chatting time!”
Ruth says that having Christine at the end of the phone makes a real difference for her.
She said: “There’s an age difference between us but that really doesn’t matter, we get on famously. At the moment we talk probably every other day – perhaps we even talk more now that we can’t see each other!”
Find out more at www.guidedogs.org.uk
Learn more about the My Guide service at https://www.guidedogs.org.uk/faqs/my-guide-service