“Training for the Great North Run has given me more confidence”

My name is Karen Mallett, I am a Henshaws service user in Newcastle and this year I have taken on the challenge of running the Great North Run.

Over the last couple of years I watched other people from Henshaws Newcastle take part in the run so when I overheard a conversation saying there was one place left for this year I found myself saying that I would take it.

I’m not a runner by any means but I have been training for the run and I’ve just got up to being able to run five miles with a month to go. Recently I joined a running club and even though I turned up unannounced they were great and people happily volunteered to run with me.

Running Photo of Karen training in her garden for the Great North Runhas been brilliant for my confidence, before I wouldn’t dare go out anywhere without my long cane or my guide dog Cain. Now I am quite confidently running along several different routes with some fantastic guide runners leading me, including my husband Andrew. The guide runner will help by pointing out any obstacles in advance. This might sound crazy but I find that I’m less scared of falling when I’m running, there’s nothing I can do if I do start to fall so I can quite happily just run!

My eye condition is Nystagmus and Optic Atrophy and I’ve had it since birth. Originally I couldn’t use a long cane or a guide dog, however I kept having quite nasty falls. It was after I started working for the Blind Society for North Tyneside (has since been taken over by Action for Blind People) that I gave in and had long cane training as this allowed me to become a visiting officer, going out to speak to people in the community.

Over the last three years I’ve been on a real life journey. After losing my job I was left deflated and watching Jeremy Kyle every day. I heard about Henshaws from an old colleague and was invited to meet Philippa at the Henshaws office in Newcastle for a coffee. By the time I left she’d signed me up to three different courses! Henshaws helped pull me back to life and soon Philippa suggested that I go on a PTTLS (Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector) course as I wanted to teach Braille.

I’m not in any way academic so this was a real challenge for me but at the same time I really appreciated Philippa pushing me towards it, no matter how many tantrums I threw! Earlier this year I was volunteering for Henshaws up to 35 hours a week. I loved it but I really wanted a paid job. A position for a volunteer coordinator came up at Sight Service who support people with sight loss in Gateshead and South Tyneside and I got an interview. Eamonn (also from the Newcastle office) gave me some interview techniques and as soon as I walked into the interview room I relaxed and I got the job! I am so very grateful to Sight Service for giving me a chance.

I’ve continued to use Henshaws as they helped me get settled in properly with Sight Service and make sure I had all the necessary tools I needed. Philippa has been fantastic and I really appreciate her help. Volunteering in the office in Newcastle helped me keep up to date with how an office runs too which helped with my new job.

Although I’ve found training for the run hard I’m determined to do it as I want to do something to give back to Henshaws for all the help they’ve given me. My guide runner is positive that we will get round in three hours, I’ll just be happy to finish the run.”

Karen’s justgiving page is https://www.justgiving.com/K-Mallett/

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Lisa is a Fundraiser for Henshaws based in Yorkshire. She organises events and works with the local community to raise money to help run the services that Henshaws provides.