Countess of Wessex enjoys tandem bike ride in support of UK blindness charity

·3-min read

The Countess of Wessex joined a blind rider for a tandem bike ride which aimed to change perceptions about people with sight loss.

Sophie has been a patron for the Vision Foundation since 2003 and took part in the event to promote its See My Skills report.

The bike ride took place at Bushy Park, south-west London, and involved six sighted pilots and six non or partially-sighted stokers.

Vision Foundation bike ride
The Countess of Wessex joined Monica Smith on a tandem (Joe Maher/PA)

The countess was pilot for the lead tandem and Monica Smith, the charity’s centenary appeal manager, was her stoker.

Ms Smith, who has been blind all her life, said: “She was chatting away, describing everything that was going on, talking about the partnership between a tandem and those who are sighted and not sighted.

“It was really just like going out cycling with a friend, it was really lovely.

“Yesterday when we had a trial run, she said I was the one that was calming her down, and she said that if I had not been calm then she would not have been able to do it.

“She was amazingly down to earth and just understood my situation completely.”

Vision Foundation bike ride
The Countess of Wessex spoke to other participants in the Vision Foundation event (Joe Maher/PA)

Sophie was fully equipped for the ride in her helmet, cycling leggings and the Vision Foundation shirt, and stayed ahead of the rest of the tandem cyclists during laps around Bushy Park.

The See My Skills report sets out the charity’s plan to tackle high unemployment rates among blind and partially sighted people and Tuesday’s event was part of a campaign about “working in tandem to break the cycle of unemployment for people with sight loss”.

Olivia Curno, chief executive of the Vision Foundation, said: “The Countess of Wessex is an amazing champion of sight loss charities and disability employment, so it is incredible for us to have her here today shining her spotlight on this really really important issue.

“She has come to have fun and be active with a group of six visually impaired stokers and sighted pilots.

“We are here to have a lovely bike ride, but there is a really serious point to today which is that levels of unemployment for blind and partially sighted people are still unacceptably high.”

She added: “Today is really about myth-busting and changing public perceptions and the countess is putting her full weight behind that and we are so grateful.”

Vision Foundation bike ride
The Countess of Wessex prepares for a tandem bike ride in Bushy Park (Joe Maher/PA)

When Vision Foundation asked 2,000 people whether a blind person could do their job, 94% of respondents said no.

The charity believes society is a long way from changing those perceptions.

Among those taking part in the ride was Dr Amit Patel, a trustee of the foundation, who lost his sight suddenly eight years ago and subsequently lost his job as trauma doctor.

Dr Patel said: “I had to start all over again and finding a job as a visually impaired person was probably the most difficult thing I have ever had to do.

“I think differently to the way a sighted person thinks, and why would you not want that new dynamic and creativity in your organisation?”

Sophie’s previous support for the charity has included posing for a sculpture to be made of her in September 2020 in support of the charity’s aim to make art more accessible to non-sighted people.

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