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June 12, 2018

A trip to the Sensory Garden

A globe-trotting Wigtown resident who has been living with a rare genetic eye disorder her whole life met two other ladies living with the same condition for the first time, thanks to help from local charity, Visibility.

Despite spending time living in Africa, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Spain, Sharon Bruce, who settled in Wigtown with her late husband Phillip a decade ago, met others living with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) for the first time on her 63rd birthday in Wigtown.

Sharon said:  "We all clicked immediately and got along very well.  It was lovely to meet other people and not have to explain how I see the world.  To look at our eyes, you wouldn't know there was anything wrong so there can often be misunderstandings about the condition."

Visibility, one of Scotland's oldest charities, works across Dumfries & Galloway providing support to those living with a sensory impairment to live theirs lives fully, confidently and independently.  In addition to a small team of staff, the charity has developed a 20-strong bank of 'sensory inspirers' who themselves are living with sight and/or hearing loss.

"Who better to pass on the skills, techniques and coping strategies for coming to terms with, and eventually overcoming, their sight or hearing impairment than those who have lived through these experiences themselves?", explained Visibility service manager, Lindsay McDowall.

RP affects roughly 1 in 4,000 people across the country.  In the early stages of RP, people experience night blindness and a progressive loss of the visual field.  Later stages of RP tends to see people develop tunnel vision and have difficulty performing essential tasks of daily living such as reading, driving, walking without assistance, or recognising faces and objects.

Avril Dunlop is one of Visibility's sensory inspirers, helping to delivering training, practical advice and emotional support in group and one-to-one settings.

She said:  "I've been volunteering for a couple of years and I really enjoy delivering talks and sharing my own experiences to try and get new volunteers on board.

"I try to help people get to a positive place, not to dwell on what they can't do but what they can do, just in a different way.  Usually when I've been to visit someone, I feel like it's nice to give something back.  But in this instance, I feel like I got as much out the visits.  Meeting Sharon, hearing about her travels, her life, how she came to settle in Dumfries & Galloway, it was very interesting and inspiring."

Avril and Sharon were joined by Sheila Brierley from Castle Douglas, who also has RP.  After getting acquainted during their first meeting, the trio then made a trip to a sensory garden in Wigtown which Sharon helped establish.

Sharon added:  "It was the first time I'd managed to get down to the sensory garden this year, so it was nice to get some fresh air and let other people know about it.  It's a bit of a hidden gem.  Everything in the garden is there to ignite your sensory perceptions, from touch and feel to smell and taste."

For more information on Visibility and the services available across Wigtownshire, you can call 01387 267 131 or email seehear@visibility.org.uk

Image of Craig MacLagan
Written by
Craig MacLagan

Area Co-ordinator for Stewartry and Wigtownshire, See Hear project