Getting back on track with the 7 Families project

In a guest blog, Tracey Clarke explains how a pioneering new financial project is getting her family back on track after disability and job loss meant they almost lost everything.

7families_Clarke_FamilyLife was normal and hectic. I was a qualified pharmacy technician, held an Advanced Drivers Licence, was independent and active. Then, in July 2011 I started to realise that my eyesight was failing. Following a barrage of medical tests, in September I was registered blind. Over the following few months my vision continued to reduce to a pinhole (approx 2% of a normal field of vision). That remaining window seems to have stabilized, at least for now, but the quality of the view through it varies significantly. On a ‘good-eyes-day’ I can read with adaptations, but, on a ‘bad-eyes-day’ the view is as if through moving murky water. Cause unknown. Vague diagnosis: Optic Nerve Atrophy. Prognosis unknown. The specialist’s words? “As it has gone so far without apparent reason, expect it to continue to totality.”

Career over. Driving licence surrendered. Life shattered.

Sinking into depression and withdrawal, I found it easier to stay indoors and manage without than go out to even so much as buy a pint of milk. Thankfully, this withdrawal was reversed by the amazing gift of a Guide Dog. He restored independence and confidence.

I got a part-time job that didn’t work out, and I left in February 2013. Life was increasingly difficult; debts mounting, morale sinking. In December 2013, Tim, my hubby, was made redundant. Bankruptcy loomed large. Then we discovered that we could sell our house with enough equity to clear the mortgage and most of the debts, and buy a narrowboat. Life afloat is cheaper than in a house and, with tight budgeting, is just manageable on our benefits. However, there is no spare for contingency plans.

In July 2014, I received an email from Disability Rights UK inviting an application to the 7 Families project. Over a year, this new project is supporting seven families who have lost their income because of disability or a long-term health condition. At that point, if I am really honest, I was a tad sceptical because this kind of thing just doesn’t happen to us! But, as the project unfolded, the scepticism gave way to overwhelming gratitude.

The 7 Families project has enabled us to, first of all, invest in good quality boots; much more appropriate for the sometimes treacherous towpath environment than our previous cheap, flimsy, leaky shoes. This month’s gift has enabled us to renew our annual Boat Licence, which we would have otherwise struggled to do. We plan to add more solar panels to the boat, which will save us ongoing fuel costs.

Perhaps the most notable use of the 7 Families funding has been the purchase of a laptop for me. Together with some training on use of adaptive software for Visual Impairment, this may well open up my ambition to write and publish, hopefully with a view to earning an income instead of claiming benefits.

7 Families is not just about money though. Arguably more empowering is the central hub of relevant information, help and advice, such as has been woefully missing in our previous experience. One great example of this is being linked up with a mentor to tutor my writing and publishing. The project is fabulous and we are enormously blessed and privileged to be included in it.

For more about 7 Families visit www.7families.co.uk.

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