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Peter Pan Lyric Theatre

Balmoral Master Chef provides boost for Guide Dogs NI

TEAM: The Balmoral Hotel’s Colm Glover with his guide dog Obi in the Greenan Bar TEAM: The Balmoral Hotel’s Colm Glover with his guide dog Obi in the Greenan Bar
By Michael Jackson

WITH entries for the Balmoral Hotel’s Master*Chef compet-ition drawing to a close on Friday, the competition to find Ireland’s next top chef could also have a positive lasting impact on the work of its charity partner, Guide Dogs NI.

Through their efforts, Guide Dogs NI help change the way sight loss affects people’s lives by ensuring that they can get out and about on their own terms. This involves tireless campaigning, fundraising, and, of course, as Guide Dogs NI Engagement Officer, Hannah Lyons explains, the support of individuals and businesses such as the Balmoral Hotel on the Blacks Road.

“It’s wonderful that the Balmoral Hotel have chosen us as their charity partners,” she says.

“We are really excited for the upcoming Master*Chef. Fundraising is integral to all of the work that we do. It costs around £55,000 to support a guide dog from birth to retirement. We cover their whole working life as a guide dog including the cost of their food and ongoing training.

“Guide dogs are life changing, but there is a lot of work involved in it, so it is essential to have the support from individuals or organisations like the Balmoral.”

As well as raising funds, the Master*Chef competition will also help raise awareness of the work Guide Dogs NI do and inform people of some of struggles faced by the visually impaired.

“Our ambition is for a future where everybody with sight loss has the confidence and support to live their lives to the full,” Hannah explains.

“A big part of it is access to and experience of services such as shops, bars, hotels and restaurants. We talk about the ‘purple pound’, which is the spending power of anybody living with a disability. We always say that it shouldn’t be underestimated. If someone living with sight loss has a positive experience when they are out and about with any service provider then they are going to return with their loyalty and spending power.

“We’re quite fortunate here in Northern Ireland that businesses are supportive on the whole, but we just need to keep that message current and keep it at the forefront of people’s mind. Businesses need to be actively welcoming visitors with disabilities because it isn’t just the right thing to do, it also makes business sense.”

While there is still plenty of work to be done in making the North of Ireland disability friendly, Guide Dogs NI have helped drive through some vital changes.

“We’re somewhat different to our counterparts across the water because they’re still campaigning on some of the things that we already have such as audiovisual on buses and disability awareness training for taxi drivers here,” Hannah says.

“We have those things in place, so we are lucky in that respect. One of the big things we’re working on at the minute is our pavement parking campaign. Parking is a problem throughout the country but because of rising congestion levels it’s getting worse. It can really negatively impact on somebody’s day when someone un-thoughtfully abandons their car and that visually impaired person then has to turn back or make the decision if they should walk into the road to complete their journey. That’s a level of stress and anxiety that nobody should have to deal with.”

Training guide dogs is, of course, a key part of the charity’s work, but they are now asking for volunteers to become sighted guides for people with visual impairment.

“A guide dog sometimes isn’t for everyone and that’s why My Guide is our free service that enables people with a vision impairment to get out of their homes and into the community,” Hannah explains.
“With a volunteer as their sighted guide, they can overcome challenges presented by unfamiliar places or crowded areas, enjoy exploring and becoming involved in their local communities and ultimately become more independent.

“We provide all the volunteer training (approx. two days) and ask for a commitment of a few hours once a week to help someone with a visual impairment to get out and about. There are people located across the whole of Northern Ireland currently waiting for a volunteer and it is truly such a rewarding role to take on.”

If anyone is interested becoming a sited guide or wants to find out more, they can get in touch with the Guide Dogs NI team at Belfast@guidedogs.org.uk

The Master*Chef grand finale will take place as part of Féile an Phobail at the Balmoral Hotel on Wednesday 7th of August 2019.For more information, see: balmoralhotelbelfast.co.uk/pro-masterchef

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