Andrew successfully stood for election to be an Aniridia Network UK trustee in 2012/13. He couldn’t be at the annual general meeting in person because he was busy “in the process of making homemade bread and cakes with a bunch of endlessly energetic teenagers all with a visual impairment, who make Saturday’s ‘never a dull moment’.” This is the nomination statement he provided instead.
I was born partially sighted and with familial aniridia in sunny east Sussex near Brighton. I have a younger brother who also has aniridia along with my mother, so there are 3 of us with the same condition in one family.
I spent most of my school life at the long gone, but not forgotten Blatchington Court school in Seaford, where I had the best possible start in life in my opinion. There I had the chance to try everything and anything from being in the swimming team, learning the piano to doing my Duke of Edinburgh Award. That period in my life planted a seed in my brain that there was every chance of me achieving what I wanted out of life.
At this time I decided that I wanted to become a famous chef after watching the great Keith Floyd on TV. I studied at college and was thrust into the crazy world of kitchens, spending nearly 20 years working up the ladder to head chef position in 5 star and country house hotels and high end restaurants. I had the fortunate opportunity to work for Raymond Blanc for nearly 3 years in a 2 Michelin star establishment. I’ve also had the absolute honour of cooking for the queen on several occasions and taking part in the 1st Great British Menu series 6 years ago.
In all this time I was aware that I was slightly different with regards to my sight, but was determined to not let that be an issue up until 4 years ago when I was made redundant on health and safety grounds due to a major blip in my sight.
At this point I had to make the decision that I needed to do something else with my life and I ended up volunteering for the Royal London Society for the Blind (RLSB) as a sighted guide and mentor for young people and adults with sight loss. I then became their volunteer co-ordinator and used my management skills to set up a working volunteer management programme from scratch.
Doing this still has given me the chance to meet and make a difference to some amazing people who have all had wildly different levels of sight loss, but with understanding and help through social groups it gives them the chance to feel part of society and to break the chains of isolation, depression and a feeling of having no self worth in society. I use my background now as a consultant chef running cooking clubs and projects for the RLSB teaching people with a visual impairment how to cook, or just to gain the confidence to cook again.
I now feel that I have reached the stage in my life where I can use my life experience to challenge peoples perception of sight loss and what people with a visual impairment can actually do with the right support and guidance. This is where I would like to get involved with the Aniridia network as a trustee, who in my short time knowing about the network do a huge amount of hard work to bring aniridia to the forefront and to offer importantly support, advice and invaluable information to people and families getting used to and living with aniridia and the many challenges it can through at us through our lives. Thank you for taking the time to read my story and hopefully you will allow me the chance to fly the flag for Aniridia Network UK.