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Sarah Bennett

Photograph of Sarah and her guide dog Sarah Bennett can hardly believe how much her life has changed in the last few years. She’s transformed herself from a woman who never went out alone and would sit at home crying into someone has just had to cancel her gym membership because she is too busy to go.

“I’ve gone from always having someone with me when I went out to getting cabin fever on the rare occasions I have time to myself and stay at home. Now I am just excited to see where life is going,” said Sarah.

The catalyst for the change from absolute despair about the way sight loss limited her horizons, to a woman who happily welcomes the challenges each day brings, was accepting an invitation to join in with the activities of SRSB.

Sarah, from Sheffield, had been in contact with Joanne Ardern, (who was one of SRSB’s Community Advice Officers and now SRSB and RSS Deputy Manager) for many years. But she rarely, if ever, took part in any events because of a traumatic memory as child being taken to a meeting of adults with the same eye condition as her - Retinitis Pigmentosa, known as RP.

“For me as a seven- year old it was just a room full of old people and I didn’t want to be like them. So I never got involved in anything that was for people who were visually impaired. I had quite good sight centrally so I was able to go to mainstream schools, I got a job in finance where I met my husband John and life was all ok.”

Sadly about 10 years ago Sarah lost all the sight in one eye and she began to rely completely on the support of friends and family. Her mental health took a turn for the worse after her Mum died, and when she eventually saw her doctor she realised that she had never fully dealt with her sight loss and was in denial about it.

As she recovered she decided to apply for a Guide Dog. But in the meantime, Joanne finally persuaded Sarah to try meeting the group at Rotherham Sight and Sound (RSS). She found it was completely different to the meeting she had gone to as a child.

“I realised they were just people like me and I was not on my own. Here was a whole generation of people with sight loss who were just getting on with life. I come to art class every Thursday and we go out together on a Friday. It’s been an utter lifeline support. You are just allowed to be you. I don’t hide my sight loss anymore – it is there for all the world to see.”

Within six weeks of joining the group Sarah had the confidence to take part in SRSB/RSS fundraising activities. “The first thing was the Sky Dive. It was the single most terrifying thing I have ever done falling out of a plane, but it was an amazing experience.

“After that it was blind driving, which was a wish come true to drive a car, and I won! Then I did fire walking. This was all in a year, and I thought ‘There is a life out there for me.’”

Last August Sarah’s moves towards independence and learning to go out on her own were boosted massively when she got Guide Dog Hannah, a beautiful golden retriever.

“The confidence I have got now is fantastic. I do community engagement talks with SRSB/RSS talking to people about living with sight loss. I never thought I would be able to do public speaking.

“I have talked to big groups of children who asked lovely questions such as how do I dream, talked to people in the workplace and discussed with psychology students the emotional side of sight loss, the isolation and the feeling that there is no point to life. It’s hard to believe I was in that dark place myself, it seems like a lifetime ago but it is only three years.”

“I always went out with someone, I had no independence. At the doctors, at my son’s school parents’ meetings I could never have a conversation on my own. Now it’s nice to choose things and buy things in private.

“Now I can do more with my son Nathan who will soon be 13 and it’s also nice for him to have the independence of coming home from school and me not always being there.

“Without Joanne encouraging me to come and meet people who knows what would have happened. But I have come through it and other people can come through it. I am living proof there is life after sight loss.

“People tell me I am an inspiration, but for me it’s just about going out and getting a life which makes you happy. Now I just want to fit in as much as possible.”

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