If you had been walking through woodlands last week near Bracelands at Christchurch in the Forest of Dean 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.
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. ‘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 Bridge 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”.