Severely sight impaired June McLaughlin has finally achieved her ambition to walk into Poulton town centre alone and unaided, by anything other than her long cane, from her bungalow near the River Wyre Hotel.
June, 68, says she has one man to thank for helping her stride out in renewed confidence – Poulton county councillor Alf Clempson.
Coun Clempson’s efforts provided locals with controlled crossings at all four sets of traffic lights at the busy Breck Road/Station Road junction as a condition of new development nearby.
He explained: “I’ve wanted this for years. I seized the opportunity to make it happen as a condition of new development. The controlled crossings make a big difference. It was the right thing to do, the right time to do it.”
The move follows the opening of Lockwood GP surgery at Wyre Civic Centre and Crocus Court Retirement Living on Station Road – as well as proposed new build flats on the site where the historic Royal Oak pub stood until demolished after becoming derelict.
June lobbied the councillor for controlled crossings at traffic lights at the busy Breck Road/Station Road junction as well as white lines to prevent cars parking across the entrance to footpaths near the River Wyre Hotel.
“We got the white lines first, but I didn’t hold out much hope for controlled crossings until my husband told me roadworks were going on… and the controlled crossings went up just before Christmas.
“I can’t tell you how much it’s changed my life. The number of motorists who used to race the lights was frightening. I had nothing to go on, other than my own judgement, on when it was safe to cross. The very first time I tried on my own a driver came through on red when I was already crossing. It really scared me; I lost a lot of confidence. I wouldn’t go on my own after that.”
White lines marking the beginning and end of footpaths near the River Wyre Hotel have also made a big difference. June catches buses nearby.
“Parked cars used to block the start of paths so I’d either have to walk between closely parked cars –dangerous – or on the grass which could be muddy and slippery when wet.”
Former serviceman Clempson, who already supports Blind Veterans UK, hopes to catch up with June at the monthly café club, run by local sight loss support charity N-Vision, at Poulton’s Booths – to which she can now walk.
He said: “I am very touched to learn Mrs McLaughlin is so pleased. A lot of motorists use Poulton as a cut-through and complain about roadworks or delays, but I’m more interested in making the town safer and more accessible for those who live here.”
June, who volunteers at N-Vision, was born with optic atrophy, an irreversible condition which wastes away optic nerve fibres which relay impulses from eye to brain.
June’s down to five to 10 per cent sight. She can’t see colours, central vision is blurred, and she struggles with peripheral vision.
Although she can’t see the LED countdown to lights sequence changes on the new controlled crossings, she’s delighted they have been installed for people with hearing difficulties. “They thought of everything.”
June and husband Phillip moved from Basingstoke to a bungalow, off Riversway, Poulton more than four years ago. June set her heart on walking into the picturesque town centre. “I wanted to keep fit, walk more and give my husband a break from driving me around, but I found Breck Road was a nightmare.”
June was invited to an information day by N-Vision’s eye clinic liaison officer Linda Sethi after being re-certified severely sight impaired (blind) by eye medics on moving to the Fylde.
June was advised to learn to use a long cane while she still had some sight left. “I carried a white symbol cane – no-one really knew what it meant, and it didn’t help me get around. I’d resisted a long cane because I saw it as a stigma. I was wrong.”
A rehabilitation officer for visual impairment helped June learn to use the navigational aid. The cane became her greatest ally in her steps towards personal freedom.
June has since caught trains alone, uses buses and trams routinely, braves shared space, escalators, and strides out in confidence.
She volunteers at several of N-Vision’s monthly café clubs across Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre, and uses skills gained over 10 years working for one of the big six energy giants to ring round clients weekly, from the Low Vision Centre at Bosworth Place, Squires Gate.
At her introductory information day June was overheard advising a working age man on employment support for people with sight loss.
Stephanie Beasley, now a specialist Low Vision support worker, then volunteer coordinator, asked: “Have you ever thought of volunteering?”
June admits: “Steph pounced! I left the information day as a volunteer!
“When I was first registered blind, I cried. I didn’t like labels. I can’t see well; I can’t change that. And it’s getting worse.
“But there’s so much I CAN do. And now that includes finally being able to cross Breck Road safely and walk into the town centre.
“That’s a real milestone for me.”
The Blackpool Gazette also featured our story in print and online – which, in turn, was picked up by our Talking New readers to share with others.
The link to the online coverage is here:https://www.blackpoolgazette.co.uk/news/traffic-and-travel/drivers-would-race-the-lights-it-was-scary-blind-poulton-woman-tells-how-new-crossings-have-transformed-her-life-and-given-her-back-her-independence-1-10219040?fbclid=IwAR1zXDqNBP93wu1risrf4fBIO6_cBIv-ru_ztHlFn0hGEQlqDDvQoxO7Ri4