The car was packed to the brim with teddies and meerkats and us: myself, Chloe 8 and brother Josh 6 who is blind. We set off to Windmill Hill, East Sussex and all set for a fun packed PGL Activity Family Weekend superbly organised by VICTA, charity for blind and partially sighted children, young people and their families. We had no idea of what to expect and as we got routinely lost en-route I was trying to banish those ‘oh ho what have I done now?’ and ‘Is this such a good idea?’ thoughts…
As soon as we arrived we were greeted by a sea of lovely and very cheery VICTA staff and volunteers. The families who had already arrived seemed settled, relaxed and very friendly. The welcome sound and sight of canes gently clopping away could be heard and that feeling of ‘everything’s going to be ok’ settled in. We were introduced to Daz, one of Josh’s helpers and a wonderfully energetic member of the PGL team who helped us transport our car load of totally unnecessary paraphernalia to our room.
The 3 of us were sleeping in a room with 3 bunk-beds – yeah no need to argue over top or bottom…….or so you would think. After unpacking we went for food and then it was time for the children to meet their groups. Josh remonstrated about the fact that it was past 7pm – his bedtime and being a man of routine I thought we may have struck a problem. But, thankfully this was not the case and we all trotted off to bed at 9.30pm having had a lovely evening of introduction games and singing. Chloe could have gone on till midnight.
Saturday morning was when the real fun and games started and this lasted for 3 whole days – Yipppeeee! As I said goodbye to the children for their first drop off with their groups I couldn’t help but take a sneaky peek over my shoulder as they departed and wondered what on earth was going to happen to them over the next 3 hours and would they need me? Well the answer was absolutely not. In fact, I’d only have cramped their style.
The children got so much out of their group activities it’s hard to list but I’ll try. Between them Chloe and Josh conquered the climbing tower, they scaled a rock climbing wall, they roved around in pitch black underground tunnels (I think Josh had a distinct advantage here), made rafts, plunged themselves into icy cold water and scaled a ridiculously tall totem pole the goal being to stand on a piece of wood on the top the size of a pizza box – whatever next?!
They got the opportunity to support each other and enjoy team work. Josh got to be with other visually impaired children. Chloe realised she wasn’t the only sister in the world with a disabled brother. They reached out to other adults who weren’t family – a big plus – and a massive thank you to Daz, Michele, Lauren, Alex and Kirsten and all the other amazing volunteers and staff without which none of this would have been possible.
All the children on the weekend, regardless of ability, were lovingly encouraged out of their comfort zones thus enabling them to conquer challenges that they would have probably never thought they could do; what a confidence booster and an amazing opportunity and memory for children to take home with them.
When I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the kids in action I could see they were so happy and wonderfully supported. The encouragement of their team leaders and volunteers was very powerful.
On one occasion I could hear shouts of ‘meerkat’ echoing round the grounds. And sure enough there was Josh gently swinging from his hoist, half way up the climbing tower, having far too much fun bouncing off the walls yelling ‘meerkats’ down to his helpers below who presumably were shouting ‘meerkat’ to encourage Josh to go just a little bit higher..but no, why would he change a thing when he could swing where no one could reach him whilst making them call out his favourite thing in the whole world? He’s not daft you know!
Well what happened to the adults while all this fun was going on? Saturday for adults involved workshops and listening to some inspirational Youth Speakers who had embraced and conquered the challenges that life hurls at people with a visual impairment. They were amazing people.
Then it was the adults turns to do all the things their little treasures had done. No problem, easy as pie…..right? Ok, not to go into too much detail but scaling the totem pole and balancing on a pizza box with two Dads was the most terrifying thing I’ve done after childbirth (not a great comparison, sorry!). But thank you to the President who encouraged me to get up there to accompany him on this ridiculously high and wobbling pole. He waited so long for me to get there I think he was lonely!
My name became Trevor during these days of team building! I partnered up with a Dad who obviously found Trevor easier to come to terms with than Wendy. It’s OK, I get that. We became Team Trevor and had an absolute blast. I loved my team, they were wonderful people and we laughed so much – rediscovering that we never did have a particular skills at netball but we were good at getting stuck in tunnels whilst trying to escape the rats that we were told were down there. The ‘rats’ were in fact ten children that Alex lovingly let loose in the tunnels once all four adults were firmly stuck, wedged and lost in the tunnels. Terrifying.
When it was time to say goodbye I said a big thank you to Daz and the other volunteers and Daz’s reply was one that will stay with me. He said “Thank you for trusting us with your blind son and letting me throw him off a 40 foot climbing tower! I’ve never worked with a completely blind child before.”
Well thank you Daz as Josh has never had the opportunity before to work with a volunteer who would chuck him off a 40 foot tower!!!
One of the biggest messages I took home from the Activity Break is that there is really no stopping and no limits for our visually impaired children. Providing they are given the opportunities the sky is the limit. So a huge thank you to VICTA and all the wonderful volunteers and PGL staff who made the Activity Break happen.
Here’s a picture of Josh at Victa!
For more information about Victa and how this organisation helps blind and partially sighted children, young people and their families go to: