Justin Ballantyne, 31, has been volunteering every Friday at St Elizabeth Hospice Retail centre for the past year with his two year-old guide dog Koko.
Justin said: “She comes into the centre with me and has her own sleeping bag and bowl. Her presence really gets people talking, she is a particular draw to many customers, some returning daily to see her. She has a really funky attitude; I can sometimes sense her giving me such a look as if to say, ‘Really?’”
Justin’s role is to replenish shelves, create displays, serve customers, answer queries and recycle goods.
When he realised that many people didn’t realise where the Holywells Retail Centre was, Justin spoke to local taxi companies, ensuring that they were aware so they could bring customers to the right place with their donations.
Justin’s sight deteriorated very rapidly when he was seventeen: “I happened to be working for the RNIB as a summer job when one night, I cried out in pain as my eyes began to hurt really badly. I was diagnosed with Uevitis, which is inflammation of the optic nerve and quickly lost my central vision.
Through a number of operations, I have regained some further peripheral vision; whilst colours are bolder, details are not clear.”
Justin is a local lad who was educated at Westbourne and Stoke high schools before moving into working in Care/Support and at a senior level with children with learning difficulties.
He recalls applying for a volunteering position in Day Care at St Elizabeth Hospice originally but his eyes deteriorated at that point so it was not feasible.
Shortly afterwards though, Justin found himself popping into the Retail Centre whilst walking into the town one day; he never got into town as he “bought so much stuff” and secured himself a volunteer position.
Justin recently completed the 8-mile route of St Elizabeth Hospice Midnight Walk, with volunteer ‘My guides’ helping him, something he has wanted to do ever since joining the Hospice. On the night he called the whole experience, “Awesome!”
To find out more about joining Justin and our amazing team of volunteers, take a look at our volunteer vacancies.