Peter thought long and hard about coming forward after seeing an appeal for new volunteers for the service for people with visual impairment, fearing that committing himself to helping out could lead to others becoming dependent on him.
But his fears proved groundless and now, two-and-a-half years later, he and the charity’s client Charles are now firm friends.
Indeed, Peter says that the Torbay VVS co-ordinator, Cherrie Crook, “Hands out friends to people who are called volunteers.”
Peter and Charles meet a couple of times a month at the Livermead Cliff Hotel overlooking the seafront in Torquay, and that’s where we recently caught up with them over coffee.
Today Peter is helping Charles fill out a form to be returned to Cheltenham racecourse.
Peter says: “There is one area where I let Charles down: he has a lifelong interest in horses, and I think that a horse has four legs and that’s all I know!”
“I’m not sure all the ones that I back have four legs,” Charles replies with a smile.
“Meeting with Peter is something I look forward to, if only to get out of the house,” he adds. “I’m very lucky to have a lot of friends, but many of them are working in the daytime, so it’s quite important to me that Peter is available.”
The pair are happy to be flexible over the timings of their get-togethers, so they can enjoy holidays or other activities without feeling they have let the other down.
Peter, who has been involved in a number of third-sector roles for many years, saw a poster asking for volunteers for Devon in Sight about three years ago.
“Volunteering is fantastic, because you can do all sorts of jobs and you don’t have to have formal qualifications,” he laughed, recalling various roles he has had at Relate, the Citizens Advice Bureau and the Torbay Volunteer Service.
“I’ve been able to do a whole range of things that I could never have done in paid employment. You are given a privileged insight into people’s lives which you would never otherwise get.
“I’m very pleased that I contacted Cherrie.”
And as he is now what he describes as ‘elderly’ he is also glad that Devon in Sight has no age limit on its volunteers, unlike a number of other charities, as it concentrates on people’s abilities, not their ages.
Charles, who has congenital cataracts and other sight problems, has lived in Torquay since 2000, and has nothing but praise for the support services in the area, from the local hospital, Devon in Sight, Action for Blind and the Sensory Team to the council’s services, and the voluntary sector.
He worked for the Royal Engineers for 40 years, until 1999. Not long after he finished work, a visit to the Royal National Institute of Blind People in Birmingham led him to the former Manor House in Torquay, which he describes as a unique rehabilitation centre for people with visual impairment, and he soon settled down in the Bay. Charles formed the local charity Seeing – Supporting People With Sight Loss – with David Nair, and is now a director of this charity.
He said: “I contacted Devon in Sight because I needed help for various things. Since meeting Peter we have built up a trusting friendship where I can ask him to read out something I wouldn’t ask other people.
“Or it can be something as simple as just getting out of the house and having a coffee, and putting the world to rights. It’s something I really look forward to.”
Cherrie said: “I’m really pleased that Peter and Charles get on so well, as do all our volunteers and clients. Devon in Sight provides this service because we think it brings so much to the lives of not just the clients, but the volunteers too.
“It only takes a few hours a month to make a big difference to the life of someone with visual impairment, be it reading post, popping in for a cup of tea and a chat, helping write emails and letters, or just going out for a walk together. We give full training and support to all our volunteers, and work hard to match them to the right clients.
“The only problem is that there is now a big waiting list of clients and not enough volunteers to go round. We are looking for both men and women from 18 to 80!
“Volunteering is a great way to get out and about and meet new people, and, as in the case of Charles and Peter, to form valuable and long-lasting friendships. If you think you’d like to consider becoming a Devon in Sight volunteer visitor in the Torquay, Paignton and Brixham area, please contact me on 07972286061 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Nick Milton decided to do something positive with his spare time four years ago, so he put his details into a national volunteering website, and was contacted by the Tiverton Volunteer Bureau, who narrowed down the organisations he might be interested in working with.
Among them was the Devon County Association for the Blind, now known as Devon in Sight.
He said: “We set up a meeting with Lynn, who was then running the Mid Devon Volunteer Visiting Service, and she said she’d try to find a client suitable for me. She came back and said there was this chap called Mark Lane, he likes cars and that sort of stuff, and you like cars too!
“We had a half-hour meeting over a cup of tea, and then she spoke to Mark and asked him what he thought. He must have said OK, because after that I was flying solo, so to speak!”
So after a lifetime working with Riverford Organic, in the bed trade and in restaurants, what makes Nick want to volunteer? “It’s just that if I can help Mark, or other people like him to have a more normal life then I will. I have got the time, and I have got the energy, and the right sort of social ethos I suppose, I want to help other people.
“I have been very fortunate in my life, so why not? I’ve got the time, let’s see if I can help!”
Devon in Sight client Mark, from Tiverton, ran the Maynard cycle shop in the town for 25 years, until diabetes meant he lost part of a leg, and much of his vision. He has also always been a fan of vintage cars, having restored a number of MGs in his spare time, most of which are still on the road today.
He said: “Devon in Sight have been most helpful in sorting out problems with the bank, and forms, and Sue Snell came round at least three times to help me get shopping online, as me and computers don’t get on at all!
“I never thought I would be relying on a computer, I hate the things, until Sue helped me out. At the moment I’m being reassessed for benefits, and Sue has helped fill in the forms.
“The Devon in Sight Resource Centre has helped with equipment, they have given me a couple of magnification devices, one of which I live with all the time, it’s been very helpful, without it I would really struggle.
“It’s been four years since I met Nick. He’s very helpful, without Nick I wouldn’t be sat here with you, I wouldn’t be able to get out. There are only so many friends you can call on in the daytime. I sometimes don’t like going out, getting out of my comfort zone, but saying that with Nick it’s never been a problem.
“My interests have always been military medals, stamps, antiques and things like that, so we can trawl the antiques shops together. If it wasn’t for Nick I wouldn’t have a bomb in my garden! It weights three-quarters of a ton! It’s a 14-inch shell, I use it just as an ornament in the garden. If I needed a new settee or something Nick would be able to help.”
Nick adds: “It’s enabling in many ways, isn’t it, I’m not mentoring Mark because he’s quite happy to do things, it’s just that he can’t physically do it without help, and that’s where I come in.”
Sue Snell, who coordinates the Mid Devon Visiting Service, said. “We offer all the assistance that new volunteers need to help them in their new roles. And of course there is ongoing support whenever anyone feels they need it.
“Volunteering with Devon in Sight can be a fantastic way of meeting new people and making new friends, and we’re always keen for more potential volunteers to come forward. You can offer as little as a couple of hours a month, or more if you like, and your time can make a massive difference to the life of someone with visual impairment.”
However, there is always a shortage of volunteers, not just for the visiting service, but also for the charity’s resource centre in Topsham, near Exeter, and for fundraising across the county.
If you think you can help, please contact Devon in Sight on 01392 876666 or email email@example.com.