Abergavenny is working towards becoming the first ‘Sight Friendly’ Community in Wales; considering people with sight loss and impairments, focussing on the barriers they potentially face in and around their respective city, town or village and essentially increasing and improving accessibility.

Sight Friendly Communities are paramount in ensuring people living with sight loss can remain and play a part in their community. Physical obstacles, lack of information in an accessible format, attitudinal barriers, poor signage, street furniture are just some of the issues that people with sight loss face on the daily.

As a result, often individuals with sight loss withdraw from their local communities, which can lead to isolation, mental health difficulties and loss of independence. These problems only intensified during the peak of COVID-19, for several reasons. For example, new signs were put up; layouts of towns changed to adhere to the two metre distance rule. According to RNIB Research, 66% of people with sight loss can feel less confident to go out into their communities than they did prior to the pandemic.

Subsequently, Sight Cymru feel that now is the time to launch the Sight Friendly Communities Scheme, stating: “People with sight loss have an equal right to access their community without prejudice, fear or anxiety. Sight Friendly Communities will create barrier-free town, villages, cities and communities across Wales, benefitting individuals, families and the wider community.”

Abergavenny is a pedestrian zone; having removed curbs to create a safer layout to its residents. Yet there are still ways to move forwards, such as increasing tactile surfaces, cycle lanes and placements of planters – but in a way that is balanced and suitable for all locals.

The Sight Loss Friendly Scheme promotes the idea of local businesses undertaking training, which would give them the skills and understanding in how to be ‘sight friendly’. More than often, people are not sure how to approach someone with a sight impairment and ask if they need any help or assistance.

After a two hour and a half course, the business would be officially dubbed as a ‘Sight Friendly Business’. Each business that has participated will then nominate a Sight Champion and make three pledges on how they will continue to make their respective business sight friendly. The Sight Champions will thus form a network, headed by Councillor Chris Holland from Abergavenny Town Council.

Cllr Holland will be then feeding this information to Sight Cymru to highlight Abergavenny’s awareness and to show how the town is maintaining its status as a Sight Friendly town.

Abergavenny Town Council’s People and Communities Committee were one of the first organisations to receive sight loss friendly training. Cllr Gethin Jones, Chair of the People and Communities Committee, welcomed the opportunity and said “Abergavenny prides itself on being inclusive and accessible, so the opportunity to work with Esther and Sight Loss Cymru to work towards becoming the first town in Wales to have such recognition is an opportunity to show that Abergavenny is leading the way in being an accessible destination for all to enjoy.”

Sight Cymru Awareness Officer and leading advocate, Esther Weller has led a series of talks including one in Barclays Bank and King Henry VIII Comprehensive School to raise awareness. She highlights that the training is highly flexible in time and date for the businesses and individuals wanting to take part; it is open to all and for further information to contact Esther via [email protected]

Residents are also welcomed to offer their ideas about how to make the town more accessible to people with sight loss. Locals will be able to have the opportunity to do this soon as Esther hopes to open a stall alongside a volunteer in the Market Hall to answer any queries, take on board any proposals and further raise awareness.