Friday, 12 October 2012

Stepping Forward in the Dark

The Mayor of Reading (right) with Atkins the guide dog & me
At lunchtime I accompanied The Mayor of Reading, Cllr Jenny Rynn, to Broad Street where we met lots of people working & volunteering for Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Jenny & I were keen to be blind folded to experience what it is like to be blind or partially sighted.  It was also good to help support the charity's awareness day by highlighting the difficulties visually impaired people face walking in a busy shopping area.

John Mudd from the charity was very happy to answer all our questions.  He introduced us to several volunteers who enabled us to try being guided by a person, then using a white stick and finally being guided by a dog. 

Atkins guiding me
Jenny trying a white stick
Being guided by a person was fine as I simply trusted my helper to keep me safe.  However using the white stick was daunting.  Even though I only walked a short distance, I suddenly became very conscious of all the noises around me and felt extremely vulnerable.  I was anxious not to be tripped up by one of the many A-frame signs that litter the pavement. 

Best of all - Jenny agreed - was being guided by Atkins a 5 year old dog who has a lovely friendly temperament.  As he walked his wagging tail gently swished against my leg which I found very reassuring.  His fluid forward motion made me feel reasonably confident to follow beside him. 

For me the experience of walking blindfolded really brought home the isolation, disorientation and vulnerability visually impaired people battle against.  This is an issue close to my heart as my paternal grandmother was almost blind.  She never wanted to use a stick or have a guide dog, I think because of embarrassment over her disability.  She relied on my grandfather and other family members to guide or drive her about and I fondly remember guiding her. 

John Mudd, me, Joel Young, Atkins, Jenny & 'Alfie'

John Mudd emphasised the importance of early intervention to help individuals come to terms with sight loss.  Currently Reading does fund this mandatory work, however I believe Slough has cut the funding so it is crucial to ensure Reading doesn't follow suit.  Cutting funding for early intervention work is literally short-sighted.  Helping an individual adjust and cope with ordinary day-to-day life things like getting dressed, cooking safely, getting out of the house to shop or taking exercise is invaluable work.   It can transform a blind person's quality of life, giving them the confidence to have a job and a family.

We both signed the petition for the removal of VAT on dog food for Guide Dogs, with a potential saving of £300,000 to the Charity.   As well as being alert to the necessity of ensuring the future funding of the early intervention work, both Jenny and I will highlight to the Council the danger posed by unnecessary street furniture like advertising boards and ask for this to be reviewed.

It is well worth having a look at for more information about the wonderful work the organisation does.  Do consider making a donation while you're there!

Update:  Over £2,000 was raised by Guide Dogs for the Blind in Broad Street on the day

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

School Places Shortage: Labour Needs your Ideas

The local Labour administration has at last realised & acknowledged the massive shortage of school places in Reading.  With little notice - in what many rightly see as a last minute dash to make up for Labour's years of failure to accurately predict & forecast school places - the administration is consulting the public to get ideas for how to meet the forecast needs.

Rob Wilson MP has been working hard to improve the situation, already having brought the partners together for the UTC (which I've written about  before).  More recently Rob has been working with an education provider to bring forward a secondary school for 11-16 year olds in his East Reading constituency.

Returning to RBC, below is the press release announcing the consultation meeting dates. I hope anybody & everybody interested in education in Reading will try to come to one of the venues.

Let's Talk Education
Reading Borough Council Press Release

Reading Borough Council today (Oct 8) launches 'Let's Talk Education' the latest in a series of on-going community consultations on the issues that really matter in Reading .

A national shortage of primary and secondary school places is being mirrored in Reading. Only this year the Council spent £2 million providing an additional 260 more places for four-year-olds starting school. Current estimates are that in Reading an additional 12 forms of entry - or 360 primary school places will be needed every year from September 2013. By September 2017 all secondary school capacity will be full.

'Let's Talk Education' wants to hear from local residents, parents, schools and any other interested groups. Their opinions will help shape the Council's plan to meet the demand for primary and secondary school places in Reading .

Opinions gathered in the consultation will enable Reading Borough Council to have a better understanding of how people feel about the choices that impact on decisions about school places. These choices include things like school sizes, educational standards, admissions and transport options, as well as the impact on the local environment.

The Council has scheduled a series of 'Let's Talk Education' events, starting next week, across each of the local communities in the town and running through October. People do not have to be parents to attend - every local resident is invited to make their views known.

The meetings will be at:

Monday October 154pm: Moorlands Primary School , Church End Lane, Tilehurst / 6.30pm: Micklands Primary School , Micklands Road, Caversham
Tuesday October 164pm: Whitley Park Primary School , Basingstoke Road, Whitley
Wednesday October 176.30pm: Reading Town Hall Discussion on Secondary School Places
Thursday Oct 184pm: New Town Primary School , School Terrace / 6.30pm: Southcote Primary School , Silchester Road
Thursday October 254pm: Oxford Road Community School,146 Oxford Road

Each of the meetings will include a presentation on the shortage of school places across the borough. People will then have the opportunity to ask any questions they have and give any feedback. Questionnaires will be available at the meetings for people to fill in.

Anyone not able to make one of the events can also make their views known The closing date for consultation is November 7.The Council will then feedback from the events and the consultation to those that took part. 

Update: the Consultation deadline has been extended to 18th November 2012.