The blind leading the way in Super Sense programme

Blindfolded over Biblins Bridge

Blindfolded over Biblins Bridge - Credit: Archant

If you had been walking through woodlands in the Forest of Dean recently, you may have come across a team finding their way for the first time without sight. Two groups of people, wearing blindfolds, were being directed by visually impaired people.

Blindfolded beside fire

Blindfolded beside fire - Credit: Archant

The day was organised by the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) for Environment Agency staff from Gloucestershire and Herefordshire as part of their Environmental Outcomes day. The unique workshop was led by visually impaired organisers Andy Shipley, a Clore Social Fellow and James Goldsworthy, trustee from the charity Bucks Vision in Milton Keynes. They bought their Super Sense challenges for the sighted participants that proved both interesting and daunting in equal measures.

Wye Valley Community Links Officer Sarah Sawyer, organiser of the event, appreciated new perspectives the day presented. She saud: “We always enjoy providing fresh ways for people to experience the natural environment of the Wye Valley. This event taught us about trust and teamwork and how this can help us in our everyday work.”

Over 20 Environment Agency staff enjoyed the experience of sensing their natural surroundings without their sight and were set tasks which tested their use of other senses. After a morning in the woods, the teams were set further tests of cooking lunch, collecting firewood and making sandwiches, all blindfolded.

The final challenge was walking across Biblins suspension bridge blindfolded, and it was testament to the training given that all the staff managed to complete this. Andy Shipley commented: “I was very struck by the personal breakthroughs and insights that Environment Agency participants shared after their experience, in particular those who said before the event that they would never have believed themselves capable of even attempting some of the activities they successfully completed.”

Gary Kinsella, Environment Agency, commented: “I learnt there is as much to enjoy from our surroundings without the use of sight, but we sometimes don’t appreciate it because it’s masked out by what we see. Enjoyment of our environment should not be limited to people who can see. The Super Sense programme is a fantastic opportunity to improve access and enjoyment of our environment to a more diverse group”.

The event was also attended by a representative from the Environment Agency’s innovations team who will be looking at how the principles learnt during the day can be applied to the wider work of the organisation.

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Andy Middleton, Founder Director of TYF, said: “The development of the Super Sense programme has been a breathtaking experience for us, as well as the people that we’ve introduced it to. For too long, we’ve treated too much of what is invisible as unimportant; working with our visually impaired colleagues has shown that appreciation of the unseen opens up both new experience of nature’s magic and a new way of sensing the views, feelings and opinions of people that we’ve only seen through the easiest lens.”

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For information about the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, visit: www.wyevalleyaonb.org.uk

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