A new video released this week by the charity Guide Dogs shines a light on the positive impact of its volunteer service, My Guide.
With reports of isolation and loneliness at a crisis point, and recent studies revealing that young people are the loneliest age group, the sighted guide service My Guide plays an important role in combatting social concerns for people of all ages.
Research by Guide Dogs revealed that a third (33%) of My Guide users felt more confident as a result of the service and that volunteers experienced the same boost in confidence and self-esteem.
The four-minute film features Agatha MacFoy, 62, who began losing her sight nearly 20 years ago, and a volunteer guide, Hannah Gibson, 27, who was looking for a rewarding way to spend the time she gets off from work. The two were connected through MyGuide, a free service that helps people with sight loss get out of their homes and into the community with a volunteer as their sighted guide.
Despite Agatha and Hannah’s 35-year age gap, their partnership has now developed into what they regard as a life-long friendship, with shared interests including everything from football to politics. Together they visit the cinema, go clothes or jewellery shopping and chat over lunches as seen in the video.
Since being diagnosed with Retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative sight loss condition, Agatha has had to give up driving her beloved sports car and experienced difficulties using public transport on her own, avoiding going out at night as a result. However, with Hannah’s fortnightly visits, she now feels more confident to travel on buses and trains.
Agatha says, “The reality is, I wasn’t sure if a guide dog was for me, but I was surprised to discover Guide Dogs also offers the My Guide service. And I’m so glad I did as it’s truly enriched my life – I wouldn’t be able to go to so many places if it wasn’t for Hannah. She never makes me feel self-conscious about my lack of sight and she has become a real friend to me – I love her to pieces!”
Each partnership created by the My Guide service is unique – while some pairs develop strong bonds like Agatha and Hannah, others may be looking for practical support on a short-term basis. In fact, 75% of My Guide users in the study said they’re able to get out of their homes more frequently and have the opportunity to participate in their local community as a direct result of the service. Close to one fifth (18%) also report an improvement in their mental wellbeing.
Hannah says, “What interested me about the My Guide service is that it’s bigger and broader than providing a guide dog for someone. I loved the idea of volunteering involving some sort of social interaction and knowing I could make a real difference to another person’s life. I get just as much from my meetings with Agatha, as I hope she gets from me. I recently got engaged and was so pleased that Agatha came along to my engagement party!”
Jo Milligan, Head of Volunteer Led Services at Guide Dogs told Charity Today:
“Our My Guide service is all about providing the right support at the right time so that people with sight loss don’t have to miss out on life. As our new video shows, Agatha doesn’t let her sight loss stop her doing the things she loves – it’s also clear that it’s not just our users who benefit from the partnership, but volunteers stand to gain just as much too.”
My Guide also offers support for friends and family through peer group training. To find out more about the My Guide service please visit: https://www.guidedogs.org.uk/services-we-provide/my–guide/