The group of people making their way with caution through North Walsham might be have attracting plenty of attention from passers-by, but half of them had no idea.
They were taking part in an awareness exercise to highlight some of the problems the blind and partially-sighted have when navigating the town on a day-to-day basis.
It was organised by Guide Dogs East Anglia and involved local police officers, police cadets and two members of the community Scott Vallance with his guide dog German Shepherd Benji, and Paul Monaghan with Gizmo, the more usual Labrador. Pauline and Doug Parker were also in attendance with trainee puppy Duffy.
Helen Sismore, community engagement officer for Guide Dogs East Anglia, said: “Today we have been able to raise awareness regarding obstacles that people who are blind or partially sighted face on a daily basis. These can be A-Boards, vehicles parked on kerbs or tactile pavings, overhanging parked vehicles into the pavement space when parking, cyclists, and the impact of dog attacks on Guide Dogs.”
There are two million people registered with sight loss in the UK. This is set to double by 2050 and 180,000 people with sight loss rarely leave their homes because of the above hazards and the feeling of not being safe when out and about.
Helen said: “The exercise today helps to build awareness in the community and highlight what the issues are. With a little bit of foresight we can help to make our communities safer so they become inclusive to all especially people who are blind or partially sighted. Think about where you are parking, think about where you are placing your A-board. Does it make the pavement too narrow? If you are a dog owner does your dog lunge or bark at working dogs? Correct it or move away! As a cyclist respect the person you are cycling behind either dismount or tell them you are behind them. Simple steps make all the difference.”
PC Davison said: “I found it terrifying. When you can’t see the traffic seems so loud and so very close to you. I was completely dependent on the person who was guiding me around the town and had to trust them completely to describe hazards around me.”
Chief Insp Wes Hornigold said: “For me, it was great to be able to get involved with members of the blind community, having already been invited to talk at the North Walsham guide dog forum. I was amazed how difficult it was to simply navigate around the town and showed to me how important it is for our paths and walkways to be clear of obstructions.”
The 10 police cadets who took part were all members of the local group which meets on Thursday evenings during term time.
The group is open to youngsters aged 13-16 and sessions are held at the police station. An open evening is planned for Thursday, March 1, at 7.30pm for those interested in finding out more about the group and joining.
For more information email NNCadets@norfolk.pnn.police.uk.