A VIP Holiday by Paul Bowler

Paul wrote this article for Warwickshire Vision magazine which is published by Warwickshire Vision Support, and distributed freely to around 3,000 people in and around Warwickshire. It is produced three times a year.

A VIP Holiday

It’s been a few years since I last enjoyed a break by the sea, and much longer than that since I went on holiday as part of a group. But thanks to a relatively new but growing organisation that offers support to people with sight loss, this summer I got the chance to spend a few days with some other visually impaired people at a hotel in Blackpool.

The holiday was arranged by the VIP Lounge, a peer-to-peer organisation established by and for visually impaired people, and billed as their Summer Break and Party. It is an annual event that brings together people with sight loss from across the UK, allowing many to experience their first trip away from home without other family members. Previous breaks have seen groups visit Media City in Salford, Greater Manchester, and take the Beatles themed Mersey Beat tour around Liverpool.

I was invited to go on the Blackpool trip by a friend whose partner is the organisation’s CEO, and after some weeks of anticipation, I took the train from Coleshill on the last Monday in June. Changing at Birmingham New Street I journeyed northward aboard a Virgin Pendolino, where I began to meet some of the people I would be spending time with. Then, when we reached our destination I was in for a pleasant surprise, as at our hotel it turned out I would be sharing a room with an old school friend.

Our hotel, Tiffany’s, was right on the seafront, where the sounds and smells of the ocean were our constant companions, and the week was packed with activities. These included a trip to the Sea Life Centre, an evening of tenpin bowling, and a chance to visit Blackpool Tower, where despite a brisk wind I braved the climb to the highest point open to the public. I also got to ride on the famous tramway that runs along the Fylde Coast, and is one of the oldest in the world.

Tiffany’s put on nightly entertainment, and the VIP Lounge also arranged a couple of events. I took part in a quiz one evening, which was being recorded for broadcast on an internet radio station, and a couple of days later attended the VIP Lounge summer party, with the hotel allowing us to use their conference facilities for the occasion.

Having not been to Blackpool before, the holiday was a new experience for me. But it was also a new experience in another way, as it was the first time I’d been away on a break where all but a very small number of the other group members are visually impaired. I have to admit to having had some initial doubts about the practicalities of this, but any concerns proved to be unnecessary. It was a huge success, and throughout the week I saw several people grow in confidence as they developed new independence skills.

The staff at Tiffany’s, as well as the various tourist attractions we visited, were very friendly and helpful. Also, Blackpool is quite a good place to get around once you’ve got your bearings, so within a couple of days we were starting to feel at home. Far too quickly though it seemed, the holiday was coming to an end, and it was soon time for us all to go our separate ways. But I’m already looking forward to next year’s break.