Jennie: I’m pleased you said that because fear is the main key word really and that’s why I started up Enhance UK. I started it off originally as a business and then changed it to a charity and the reason that I started it, and this will link in to the word fear is because I met James at a university, we were both working for Graeae Theatre Company and he lost his sight overnight. He literally woke up one morning, one eye was gone, and within seven days, the other eye was gone, completely blind. He was self-employed, worked on the roads, his whole life fell apart and that’s a very long story for James to tell but we became friends after he lost his sight and he really wanted to go to the gym and be fit again. He was a very fit man before, and I wanted to go to the gym and become fit, [laughing] and learn how to use these things because I’m rubbish at that, but I wanted to do that, but also I wanted to go to yoga and I had real problems. I was really nervous about going to yoga. I’m quite a confident person, but the thought of going into yoga because yoga can be really breathy and people breathe into their words and speak very quietly, so I would have spent the whole time, as I have done in yoga classes before with one eye open going ‘what did they say,’ you know, ruining the whole experience, especially when it comes to meditation I can’t hear a thing because my eyes are closed. So we said ‘right, ok, we’ll access each other. I’ll come to the gym with you, I’ll help guide you to all the,’ you know, ‘to the bits of equipment, and you come to yoga with me, lie next to me and can lip speak everything and tell me what’s going on,’ and we said ‘right, ok, brilliant,’ and it was funny because we went to the gym first of all with James and James was on the running machine and to set the scene, James running on the running machine, the guide dog sitting next to the running machine [laughing] and the staff in the gym going ‘oh my God, this isn’t under Health & Safety,’ and we going… just laughing away. [Laughing] Yeah it was brilliant.
Jennie: And actually we were sitting on the stretching mats and we were talking about this and I said ‘this… we need to do something about this because there’s fear around…’ you could see the fear in the staff’s face. They didn’t know what to do with this situation, and that very much is where you know, that’s really how Enhance was born, because we wanted to take the fear factor away from disability, and it’s a very simple thing. There’s a simple way of doing it; you ask that person what it is they want. They might be really rude you know, they might be really rude and tell you to go away but more often than not they’ll say ‘I’m ok thank you very much,’ or ‘yes,’ you know, and I think as society as a whole, we’ve created that problem because people are so worried about being ‘pc’ about getting things wrong, about embarrassing themselves. There’s this fear of saying the wrong thing, so they don’t say anything at all.
Alex: Yeah, we’ve got a couple of minutes left, I just wanted to ask as a kind of final question to you both briefly, about where you know, we were speaking on the phone last night and you were saying about you know, there are also positives to the situation, and I kind of wanted to finish on that note, as you both reflect on your situations and obviously there are things that are very challenging about it, but what do you see as the potential, for one of the less cheesy word ‘gift’ or ‘opportunity’ in what’s happened? Maybe you first. [Pointing to Jennie]
Jennie: I can honestly say this, hand on my heart and you know, if somebody gave me two magic pills and said ‘take this magic pill,’ you know ‘and you’ll get all your hearing back and it’ll never go,’ or ‘this one and you’ll stay as you are,’ I really can say I’d stay as I am because I wouldn’t be here, I wouldn’t of met Rob, I wouldn’t of met you, [referring to Alex] I wouldn’t of started up a charity, I wouldn’t be doing the work I’m doing and sometimes it’s frustrating and sometimes it’s hard, but it makes me ‘me’ and it really does, and it makes you know… and I’m very fortunate that I’ve now got wonderful people in my life and I have an understanding I hope, an empathy to other people’s disabilities and impairments so I think that can only be a positive thing you know.
Alex: No, that’s great. And also briefly to you, [gesturing to Rob] as well.
Rob: Like I said I’ve watched my children grow up. That’s a very lucky… I’m a very privileged man to watch that happen. Most of the time dads don’t get that privilege. I’ve also had the privilege of being able to turn around and like I say, meet some people that are extraordinary in what they’ve done and how they’ve achieved it, and I never would have thought I would have been able to do that, again doing what I was doing because I was in a different world to a certain extent, and it is a different world. The thing that I think I picked up on which is hence why I was really interested in the Enhance bit was from the point of view that we do come into the realms of the day-to-day bit where we see people, you know, [rolling eyes in head leaning back] almost like ‘Oh my God what are you doing now,’ and it’s like normal for me but it’s not normal for you to be seeing it, so that is the scary bit. But it’s also from the point of view like you go to the gym, you want to go into the supermarket, people… ninety nine percent of people are really caring and really want to help, they just sometimes don’t know how to, or don’t know whether they should say or shouldn’t say, and I think a lot of people out there that are disabled, sometimes even put them off as well from the point of view of, it’s like they don’t know the reaction they’re going to get. Sometimes we have to be gracious for help, that’s something I’ve learnt. It’s one of the hardest things to accept it, it really is, I mean I find it even difficult to accept help off of family and friends but you have to learn or vice-versa. It’s also useful for somebody to go out there and actually explain look, these are the things you could help us with, when we need it without a fear of thinking ‘oh God I’m belittling somebody.’ Because the ‘pc’ bit is really difficult.
Jennie: That’s where Enhance comes in.
Alex: I was going to say exactly as an end point, that’s one of the great things that you guys are doing and I know the charity is still in fairly new phases, so anyone that’s watching that wants to get involved or help that would be wonderful.
Jennie: Absolutely, and we… we’re so new and any kind of help would be fantastic and you know volunteers, just time you know, obviously money’s great but I mean time would be a great thing that we would really you know…
Rob: And also to turn around and get it out to… get the word out to as many people, yeah.
Jennie: Yeah, start educating people in how…
Alex: Well I think also that the one wonderful thing that you both are showing is that life is kind of… life is what happens. What you do with it is kind of a choice you know…
Alex: …and I think it’s very inspiring you know, for me to hear what both of you have learned to live with and also to embrace and thrive with you know, I think it’s very easy I think for people to focus on what they don’t have in life and we can all do that, but to focus on what we do have is also another choice. So thank you both for being here today.
Jennie: Thanks for having us.
Alex: So you’ve been watching Conscious TV, and we look forward to talking with you again very soon.