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People Profile – Rhoda Kirk – A Colourful Life

Most days I go to the Cranleigh Leisure Centre for a swim and it’s amazing the number of people you meet there from all walks of life. Rhoda Kirk is one of those people. Rhoda is

almost totally blind and manages to get from her home in Cranleigh to the leisure centre where she swims every week. This is her walk of life . . .” . . writes Backstroke Boy.

Rhoda moved to Surrey, aged 50, to keep up with her current partner’s career  and got a job in Horsham as part of a team helping to empty  a large mental hospital  following the Care in the Community Act employed by West Sussex County  Council. This act  was  designed to reintroduce the mentally ill patients to the rest of society and finding families  that could  be paid  to take them into their homes.

Rhoda, however star ted to lose her sight  and retired aged 60, becoming a registered blind person in 1993.

Having been able to see the world in colour, her vision has  now gone almost completely. But you may be surprised to hear  that Rhoda still manages to live a colourful life. Here’s what she has to say.

It has  been five years since I wrote the first ‘Kindly Cranleigh’ ar ticle for Cranfold Life in which I extolled the unfailing helpfulness shown towards  me by the shopkeepers and general public  of Cranleigh.

I have always got help from friendly neighbours, one of which even had the kindness to give me a lift so I could  visit one of my daughters in Newcastle! As time has gone on, I can no longer manage to navigate the hazards of the high street, I miss  the friends I made at the bus stop but I still receive early morning lifts from my neighbours, and a lift back from my friendly Hoppa driver so that I can  attend my morning swim at the *Cranleigh Leisure Centre.

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(Above: Rhoda with her friendly and very helpful neighbour)

The leisure staff  at the centre are unbelievably helpful and even give me a lane to myself so that I don’t have to worry about bumping into people or wandering blindly around the poolside!

Thirty years ago a ninety year  old neighbour of mine told me that the Cranleigh population had raised the money  to build the leisure centre, with Cranleigh craftsmen participating in the erection of the building. However, before this wonderful centre existed, the village youngsters swam in the Navvies Pool.

This was  a lovely  deep pool that was  created when the ground  was  dug  up to get  at the clay needed to build the railway embankment, and the hole became the swimming pool. I have only ever come across one other old timer who knows  about this secret pool. Getting  to it, however, requires balancing on stepping stones across a fast flowing stream before scrambling up a steep bank, activities that have long since been beyond my capabilities. Though I wonder  if anyone else knows of its existence.

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(Above: Her phone tells her the number that is calling and the key pads speaks the numbers when dialing out)

It may be surprising to hear that since I retired at aged 60, due to the loss of my vision, a whole world has opened up for me.

Whilst I do miss walking  to Cranleigh School to hear  their lunch time organ concerts, I receive helpful visits from pupils to assist me in mastering my new software and disability aids. I have had a series of pre-Uni students who have come to my aid when I had any technical problems that needed solving and I currently  have a student called Ben  who helps me in this way, following the leave of yet another Ben!

I can  only hope there are more “Ben’s” available when the current one leaves me.

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(Above: In the kitchen Rhoda has a scanner (‘Penfriend’) that reads a label stuck on the item. The labels are recorded over, using the voice of her carer which is then replayed back to Rhoda using her pen scanner so then she knows what is inside the packet or tin ie. beans or rice)

As it is now almost impossible for me to walk alone, I advertised  for a “Person Walker” to help me get  around.  I now get  taken  out regularly once a week for a walk to enjoy the outside. This is all for someone who used to be a Walks  Leader for “Go 50”, and relished the countryside with other knowledgeable  members of the Guildford Natural History Association. However, it is far better  than nothing and I am very  grateful  for the fresh  air it affords me. I am also very grateful  to the kind people that sew on my buttons and hooks  for me as I am not able to find the eye of the needle easily with my own, let alone  the needle itself!

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(Above: Using her computer Rhoda can check her diary appointments and hear her emails from the voice technology software buy using key commands to scroll up and down).

Last month I travelled to Scotland by train, a difficult journey that, although  I have done  it four times before, never  gets any easier for me. I caught the 6:02am train from Guildford that travels directly  to Newcastle/Tyne with no changes, but plenty of stops.

It would be  much quicker to travel the express from Kings Cross but I can’t  face the journey on the underground despite the helpful London  Underground staff. It is easier to stay seated during the train ride but I need a strong  bladder to achieve this as the flat toilet push  button controls  and sliding  doors are not blind-friendly! I did contact the train company and told them this but was  informed the toilet facilities are in accordance with the disability  regulations as they are.

I suppose they have not tested them with a blindfold on!

As soon  as I got off the train, the cool,  north air hit me and I immediately missed the slightly  warmer temperatures of the South. I was  taken  for walks  around the Lochs (which I’m told are very  beautiful(!),  and I got completely smothered in midges. But it was  worth the trip to visit my family.

 

Rhoda will hear this  magazine  read  out  loud to her by a kind friend, who  spends time with her on a regular basis but Rhoda will never see the colour pictures! A sobering thought for us allnever to take our gift of sight and colour for granted.

 

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