An enthusiastic client of SRSB over many years Jean has a long list of the ways it benefits her life, but right at the top is friendship. “The main thing is the friends you meet here,” she says. And by an amazing coincidence through the friends she made at the Mappin Street centre, Jean also found love - with a school friend she hadn’t seen for more than fifty years.
“It’s a really, really lovely story,” says Jean with a smile. “I heard one of my friends here talking about someone whose name I thought I recognised from our schooldays, which was many years ago. Of course the staff here couldn’t put me in touch with him but they passed on my details.”
After a bit of confusion over her phone number Peter managed to ring Jean and it turned out he had been the school pal she remembered at a special school for children with visual impairment.
At one time they spent lots of time together because they lived on the same street. “I used to want him to be my big brother. To say neither of us could see very well we used to roam all over the place. Children couldn’t do that now.” said Jean. But despite their close friendship when they both left school in 1954 they lost touch.
The phone call from Peter led to a meeting. “As we met his arms were outstretched and mine were too. I still recognised him after all these years, he hardly seemed to have changed. We started meeting once a week, then more and more and now we see each other regularly.
“It definitely is a romance, I love him to bits, it’s lovely. We were both on our own by the time we met again, I wouldn’t have it any other way.” said Jean who is 76.
And Peter agrees. “We left school at 15 and saw each other a few times after that but then we went our separate ways. When we were introduced again through SRSB we hadn’t met for over 50 years. And here were are two years later very much in love and really enjoying life together, it’s wonderful,” he said.
“We’ve got all that background in common because we spent all our childhoods together,” said Jean.” And so many things about our lives in between have been similar. We’ve got a lot of shared interests, we go on holiday together. He used to be an engineer and we both like our gadgets."
But one place Jean and Peter don’t go to together is the SRSB Activity Centre. “I wouldn’t change my days to go with him because I wouldn’t see all my other friends if I did. I’ve been meeting them on Wednesdays for well over ten years and I’d really miss them.”
Even before the happy coincidence which reunited Jean and Peter, Mappin Street was the hub of Jean’s social life.
“I like the company, I like the fact that I am ferried here from home and back again, I like the food and the things that we do here, the bingo,the quizzes and games. Once a month there’s a social night. We go out to places like the theatre, I do like that I’ve seen some really good things and the cost is pretty reasonable.”
“It might seem trivial to anyone with good sight, but I don’t feel embarrassed here. If someone says hello and I can’t tell who they are at first here no-one minds. But if I pass someone in the street and don’t see them they can easily be offended.”
Jean’s sight problems stem from birth when she was born with ulcers on her eyes. That led to scarring on her corneas. Over the years the treatment she’s had has included transplants on each eye, cataract operations and a stem cell graft. Her sister Christine was the donor for the grafts on each eye.
“I was in hospital for a month after that, having treatment every day. It sounds worse than it was. You get used to it when you know it is for your own good.”
Jean is registered blind but does have a little bit of sight. “One eye is like looking through polythene, the other I can see but just very close up, not in the distance.”
“They do lots of things to support you at SRSB. I had to retire from work in 1992 and the advice workers helped me a lot then. They do all sorts of things. One of them was helping me fill in a form so a friend can escort me to the cinema and go in free. Rather than have to go to Citizen’s Advice, here it is all geared for our disabilities.”
“The centre itself is fantastic. I go to baking group every week and I play tenpin bowling. I can get my hair done, there’s a chiropodist. And a shop that sells all the gadgets and different things that we need.”
“The café is great, although it’s not open to the public I can bring my friends here and it’s a place I am comfortable in rather than go to a café in town, it’s a real improvement on the old centre.
And so from getting advice when she had to retire Jean’s involvement with SRSB has brought her friends, a busy social life, lots of life-enhancing gadgets, some great cakes and best of all love and a new partner from that chance reunion with an old school pal.