“I’ve conquered not only my fear of water but also a fear of being defined by my visual impairment”

Philippa Young, a Henshaws service user in the North-East tells us her inspiring story of how Henshaws has turned her life around since she joined us 18 months ago. She loves her new-found confidence which includes learning how to canoe, even though she was previously terrified of water!

“Ten years ago, I was Philippa Young portraitdiagnosed with Macular dystrophy;
a rare, genetic eye disorder that causes vision loss. It was a huge shock to me and my confidence was severely knocked, I also lost a lot of my independence as a result.

I joined Henshaws in June 2014 after being put in touch with their Community Services Development Officer, Philippa. I was referred to Henshaws by Avanta, an employment support and training services company who thought I needed more help with developing my confidence and independence skills before getting back into work.

I was nervous initially but was made to feel very welcome by the team at Henshaws Newcastle, in particular Philippa and Craig. After an initial chat with Philippa, we worked on a personal plan and I joined a computer class to help me to navigate around a PC using ZOOM TEXT. I didn’t know anything about computers before the course and now I am able to use Henshaws Facebook account to communicate with people and keep up to date with what’s happening at the centre.

I also enrolled in the maths class and the travel & tourism class, which has been a massive help to me; I have gained much more confidence using public transport as a result and am able to make my own way around. Much to my surprise I also embraced the sporting activities (there is a very sporty culture at Henshaws Newcastle thanks to Craig!) I have tried archery and outward-bound activities.

Philippa canoeingMy biggest achievement to date has to be conquering my fear of water and paddling in a
canoe boat – something I never thought I’d do even before my sight loss! Craig (Community Services Co-ordinator at Henshaws) has been so patient with me – he joined me in a canoe to teach me the skills and make me feel relaxed and at ease until I felt comfortable. Craig also encouraged me to try the climbing wall which I’ve really been enjoying. My skills keep on improving and best of all I’m getting much fitter and healthier and have been losing weight. I feel fantastic! I’ve even stood in for Craig as a Group Leader whilst he was away on his holidays and I arrange social meet ups for our group members every week, I’ve gained leadership skills which I can hopefully use again in the future.

Philippa gymI’ve met so many wonderful and supportive new friends through Henshaws and feel like a completely different person. We help each other with practical and moral support and are there for one another through difficult times as well as sharing laughter at our groups and social events. I still struggle visiting totally new places and meeting new people but find I am much better at being out of my comfort zone and I am hoping to reduce my anxieties in these areas the more I put myself out there.

Henshaws has really brought me out of my shell and I can’t thank them enough, I’d love to give something back and would urge people to support this wonderful charity whether through fund-raising or volunteering. I’ve conquered not only my fear of water but also a fear of being defined by visual impairment. I can’t wait to see what the future has in store.”

Craig Riach, Community Service Co-ordinator (Fit for Life) at Henshaws, Newcastle says:

“Since joining us Philippa has grown in confidence, when she first arrived she was very withdrawn and quiet but as she has settled in and made friends her self-esteem has increased significantly.

Philippa is now a model service user, she is punctual and reliable as well as a great motivator to others. During our summer activity programme I was quite optimistic that Philippa would join us in some of the activities, but to my surprise she participated in each and every one. With a massive fear of water, Philippa used this as motivation to others who were not so sure whether to try or not.

The confidence she gained from the Travel & Tourism group, (which ran in conjunction with Newcastle University) enabled Philippa to travel to the centre on public transport and I had no hesitation in asking her to organise safe travel arrangements for the group at times throughout the project. We have seen such a change in Philippa it is unbelievable, she is an inspiration to others and a pleasure to support. Philippa’s future is definitely looking brighter”.

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Sabine is a Marketing Officer at Henshaws and is responsible for all marketing and communications activity for community services across Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle.
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