Edward's vision of a fulfilling life

Edward BatesTHE Covid pandemic changed many people’s working lives. 

Lockdowns saw offices close – some permanently – and staff working from home. Not everyone was able to embrace the different way of working but it gave Edward Bates a whole new outlook on life.

He went from spending much of his time working with clients at the Vision Norfolk hub in Norwich to getting out and about, visiting them in their homes and developing his outreach work for the charity.

Winterton-born Edward, 31, helps people with sight loss get the best out of their lives, and in the wake of the pandemic he is focusing on spreading the word about what it can do for them.

His first contact with Vision Norfolk came as a child when he went to a couple of events on the young people’s programme. “It was a new experience for me,” he said.

Because of a genetic condition he’s never had the ability to see, but he’s had support from his family every step of the way. Mum Alison even learnt braille before Edward was old enough to learn it himself. His Dad, Jason, died 5 years ago, but inspired Edward with a love of walking in the outdoors.

“They were there all the time for me but it must have been a massive shock because there was nobody else in the family who had experienced any form of sight loss.”

After finishing his degree, Edward, who has two sisters, struggled to find work so decided to volunteer with the charity and eventually a job opportunity opened up. He applied and got it.

The job brought new challenges, because although people might think he is well qualified for it due to being blind, he said: “When I started the job, there was loads to learn. At the time, I knew nothing about sight loss, I only knew about my own experiences and how this affected me on a day to day level.”

He doesn’t know what it is like to have sight and then lose it, or to live with limited sight. “It was a big wake up call for me because it is a very individual experience.

“A lot of people we see do have some residual vision, but when people talk about losing their sight I can’t really empathise. I can’t imagine it.”

Part of his role involves recruiting volunteers to help run activities,

escort clients or stage fundraisers. He and his colleagues train organisations like businesses and schools how to treat people with sight loss appropriately, they also work with the council and police.

Edward has a support worker, Sharon Knights, who has been with him since October and they operate as a team. Sharon drives him where he needs to go and does work in the office that can’t be done on the computer.

He uses a screen reader on his computer and mobile phone, which converts text to speech and he creates documents in braille. 

When he wants to relax he swaps the braille machine keys for piano keys. He started learning aged four and as a young adult he might have considered turning professional. But he took a realistic view – most musicians are freelance and he needed a regular job. So now he uses it as a way of winding down.

For more than 200 years Vision Norfolk has been helping blind and visually impaired people. It offers practical and wellbeing support from hubs like Great Yarmouth where Edward is based.

Staff can provide access to equipment that helps people live their daily lives, advice on adapting and coping and they are able to signpost people to other services they might need. They also organise a range of social activities for everyone, from young children to the elderly.

VN works with young people from birth up to 25 and their families,

organising events like trips to theme parks, visually-impaired football training with the help of Norwich City FC and digital music sessions.

Its programmes offer sports, education, opportunities to make friends, try something new and build confidence.

Activities for adults include audio book groups and creative writing clubs, sports and leisure opportunities, days out, social gatherings and a photography group. 

And because being diagnosed with sight loss usually has a major impact on patients, the charity has eye clinic liaison officers at the county’s major hospitals, including the James Paget.

For more information, or to get involved as a volunteer, see the vision Norfolk website at: