About Me >> Let's Talk! Article - August 2008

You can do it!

There are lots of opportunities for people with disabilities but often they don't know they exist. Neil Haverson meets a man who has developed a skill and transformed his life.

The message Ian Banstead wants to give is clear and direct. "If you haven't got sight, you don't have to just sit there. You can do it!" In 2001 Ian, who lives in Attleborough, had just qualified as an electrician when his sight began to fail. He was diagnosed with Rod-cone Dystrophy. "The rods and cones are cells in your eyes," Ian explains. "They get thrown out and should regenerate, but mine don't. I have partial sight but I can't see detail; I can't read or write letters anymore. I think it's genetic."

For someone who "can't see detail", what Ian has achieved is remarkable. Over the past six years he has developed a skill in wood turning, well demonstrated by the quality of the articles he produces. "I think it is inherited," he says. "My grandfather was a coachbuilder and then a carpenter and joiner. And my late father was also a carpenter/joiner. They were highly skilled. When my sight failed I wanted to do something with my hands; I didn't want to sit in an office."

Having poor eyesight means he can't design his objects but he says modestly: "I just get the wood and turn it." Ian believes he was fortunate to meet the right people at the right time. In 2002 he went to Torquay on a 12-month course run by the Royal Institute for the Blind. Here he was to learn the skill of wood turners. "The instructor was so good, he could have taught wood turning to someone completely blind." Sadly, after only three months, the Government pulled the plug on funding so the course was cancelled. Ian had learnt the basic skills but admits his work was of poor quality.

Then, in 2006 the Shaw Trust, which helps disadvantaged people to find opportunities, fixed up for Ian to go to Street Forge Workshops at Thornham Magna Parva, near Eye in Suffolk. Here he met Dick Waller, a wood turner of some 37 years experience who runs wood turning classes for the disabled. Every Thursday, accompanied by his guide dog Ridley, Ian goes to Street Forge for tuition from Dick. Ian says: "He taught me to sharpen chisels and proper finishing. He turned me from a reasonable wood turner into a good one. Dick said, 'I will learn from you and you will learn from me.'"

Dick Waller helped Ian adapt some of his equipment. "He can't see a pencil mark," says Dick. "So we made a rest with holes in so he can use a pin. I don't mind teaching Ian. He listens to what I tell him; other lads know better!" Dick adds modestly: "All I've done is refine him, help him get over his challenges. He was obviously struggling on his own; I've just given him my experience. He turns out some good stuff. Anything that doesn't quite work I call designer firewood!"

Dick has shut his eyes while working to put himself in Ian's position. "I wouldn't recommend it!" he says. "I don't know how he does it. Itís fascinating to watch him. People visit and say: 'What's that chap doing?' When I tell them and say he's blind they are amazed."

To sell his articles Ian took a market trader's course where he learnt all aspects of selling goods and subsequently ran a craft stall. He sells to friends and family and through his website, and is keen to take on commissions. Among his commissions to date are a new handle for a warming pan and a wooden plug for a water barrel where the old one had rotted away.

Ian is determined his eyesight will not hold him back. Thanks to "talking" software he surfs the web and corresponds through email. Similarly, special software enables him to enjoy television and radio. "If there's a drama on, it tells you what they are doing, like they're washing up for example. When I'm tuning the radio it tells me what station I'm on."

Ian goes horse riding at East Harling and, through the Nancy Oldfield Trust, sails on the Norfolk Broads. His is determined to meet life's challenges ó and determined others should too.

If you'd like Ian to turn some wood for you telephone 01953 451068 or send an e-mail to ian@turnaroundgifts.co.uk or visit www.turnaroundgifts.co.uk


Street Forge Workshops was set up over 20 years ago by a group of disabled people to provide individually-designed programmes for adults with learning, physical and/or sensory disability. These programmes are based around vocational opportunities with the aim of assisting members back into mainstream employment.

Street Forge Workshops
The Street
Thornham Magna
IP23 8HB

01379 678543

01379 678498




Based on the Broads, the Nancy Oldfield Trust organises a variety of activities for the disabled including sailing, canoeing, bird watching and fishing.

The Nancy Oldfield Trust
Irstead Road,
NR12 8BJ

Tel & Fax:
01692 630572




The Shaw Trust is a national charity that provides training and work opportunities for people who are disadvantaged in the workplace due to disability, ill health or other social Circumstances.

Shaw Trust
Into Work House,
15 Milton Road East,
NR32 1NT

01502 527602


Article written and published by Let's Talk! August 2008