Mike Hill: Hartlepool must become a town more friendly to the blind

Last week I had the honour of meeting members of the Hartlepool Blind Welfare Association and taking part in a blindfold walk to get a feel for what it’s like for visually impaired constituents to navigate our streets.

Thursday, 4th July 2019, 13:00 pm
Richard Lee Sitting (left) and Hartlepool MP Mike Hill during a visit to the Headland Heugh Gun Battery. Picture by Frank Reid

I learnt a lot from listening to the experiences of the people I met and the obstacles and dangers they put up with on our pavements and roads, but to experience for myself the difficulties of getting about with nothing but a white stick to help me was a revelation. Low hanging bushes, scattered wheelie bins and cars parking on pavements are but a few of the hazards I encountered; and I had experts from Guide Dogs for the Blind on hand to help me. The Association is soon to be rebranded in its centenary year to include the visually impaired, of which there are 5,000 people in the town registered as such; but there are many more and we all need to be more appreciative that a misplaced bin or badly positioned shop sign can present a real danger.

There were many other issues including taxi refusals for Guide Dogs, which I will be taking up with the relevant authorities. I also had people contact me with other hazards like kerbs, paving stones and crossings. I will be raising these issues with the council so we can ensure Hartlepool is a friendly town to the blind. The synchronicity of my meeting with the Blind Welfare Association and my duties the next day was all the more poignant by the fact that one of the people I spoke to proudly marched with his German Shepherd Guide Dog in front of the Mayor and Deputy Lord Lieutenant on Saturday as a veteran on Armed Forces Day.

As always I was proud to attend the event to remember those who gave their lives for freedom and democracy, but also to stand by those who have served and survived conflicts. Our serving troops and military veterans deserve respect, which is why I was pleased to host a visit to Hartlepool last Thursday of the Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, ahead of the Labour Party’s launch of its 5 pledges for Armed Forces personnel on fair pay, decent housing, a representative voice, support for Forces children and an end to the privatisation and outsourcing of support contracts like MOD site security and catering.

Jeremy had an honest conversation with veterans at the Heugh Battery, which included a private meeting with Richard Lee over his missing daughter Katrice. Forty years on and the search for the toddler continues. My hope is that this will add pressure to the new Defence Secretary, Penny Mordaunt, to honour the work of her predecessors by meeting Richard and committing the MOD to continue to support him in his fight for justice.

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Finally, commiserations England’s Lionesses for their fantastic efforts in the women’s World Cup. They did all proud.

In last week's column an incorrect caption was inadvertently published. We apologise to those concerned for this.