Helping to train a guide dog has made me aware of the challenges faced by blind and partially sighted people

At TimeBank we all have five days’ leave each year to volunteer and we use it in a variety of ways – from acting as a charity trustee to lying in a body bag on Brighton beach! I’m helping to train Digger, a trainee guide dog who is spending time in our office to get used to a work environment. This is my second trainee guide dog, the first was Mason who has gone on to be a Buddy dog for a 10 year old girl who is deaf and blind.

I first heard about Guide Dogs, and a new trial they had started, via Twitter. They were looking for volunteers in the City who could have a guide dog during the day, in an office … I thought there might be some hurdles to cross before this could happen at the TimeBank office, but I also knew that I really wanted to volunteer with dogs. Ever since I was a child I always wanted a pet dog but I had asthma and with working parents, having a dog at home wasn’t very practical. And as an adult I wasn’t able to find any volunteering roles that didn’t require significant, previous experience of handling dogs. So when I saw the tweet from Guide Dogs I knew this was my chance!

I shouldn’t have worried about having a guide dog at the office. Both my CEO, Helen, and the rest of the TimeBank team were very supportive from day one. And of course the training and support from Guide Dogs has been absolutely fantastic. Like last year, having a guide dog in the office is not only a fun and rewarding volunteer experience but also a poignant reminder of how lucky we are to have our mobility.  Digger is a special dog, just like all guide dogs; he is going on to be a wonderful support and companion for someone who runs an events company and his new owner will depend on him to get around London to do business. His work experience at the TimeBank office has prepared Digger for his working life! 

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I will always remember my first weeks of volunteering. I was introduced to someone who works for Guide Dogs and also happens to be blind. During our chat he asked me if I knew anyone who is blind or partially sighted and I had a long think but I couldn’t recall anyone. These moments bring issues to the front of your thoughts - about lack of accessibility, equal opportunities and diversity - that still need to be tackled. Through volunteering, in a small way, I hope that I can show my support.

A big thanks to Andy Gatenby at the Guide Dogs team – Digger and Mason too.