Tracey Clarke, who was unable to work after losing most of her sight, tells COVER how the Seven Families campaign has changed her life so far.
"We've exhausted the tests. We can't restore your sight. Learn to adjust and prepare for total blindness." The consultant ophthalmologist's words resonated through my mind as I walked the three miles home. That was in 2012.
The previous year, in July, I had gone to the optician requesting a peripheral vision check, following a near-miss while driving.
By September I was registered as Blind/Severely Visually Impaired. Over the course of the following year or so, my field of vision continued to reduce to approximately 2% of normal - just a pinhole from one eye. That tiny window has continued to become like an dirty obscured glass.
My pharmacy technician career was certainly over. I then worked as a receptionist and publicity designer for a bus company. That came to an end too, when the boss decided that he knew, better than I, what I could and couldn't manage.
The RNIB advised me that, I would be better off, both financially and personally, if I claimed benefits. This did not sit comfortably with me but I followed their advice.
In December 2013, my husband, Tim was made redundant. This pushed us into a tight corner; already in financial trouble, we were now facing bankruptcy.
For many years we had dreamed of living on a narrowboat. This became a dream postponed to the future due to our financial situation and huge commitments. However, we discovered that, contrary to our previous understanding, we could sell the house with enough equity to clear the mortgage and most of the debts, and buy a second-hand narrowboat.
By this time, miraculously, the various commitments had steadily been removed and we were able to make the move.
Living as continuous cruisers on the UK's Inland Waterways proves cheaper than in a house and is just affordable on our benefits. It is a frugal life, but a relaxed and very happy one. My amazing guide dog, Oakley has adapted his skills and positively embraced this new adventure, enabling me to walk the towpaths and work the locks whilst Tim helms the boat.
With the Seven Families Project, life is changing yet again. Having the gift of a monthly sum (calculated to be what I might have received had I subscribed to income protection) has enabled us to invest in ‘luxuries' that were otherwise beyond our means.
With just two payments so far, we have bought decent hiking boots, Chiropractic treatments and a laptop for me.
The boots and treatments have helped to make life much more comfortable. The laptop enables me to use assistive software and screen adaptations and will, hopefully, facilitate my dream to enter into the world of writing and publishing.
Other advice and support mechanisms of the project have been wonderful and opportunities are beginning to unfold that may lead to income without claiming benefits.