I’m hugely lucky to be a finalist: hundreds of blind people from all over the world have taken part In the San Francisco-based Lighthouse Holman competition with outstanding ideas and amazing ambitions. Yet we are only the flag-bearers: there are millions more blind and disabled people globally with equal aspirations and determination. But it can take the sort of imagination behind the Holman prize to unleash all that talent.
Baking Blind started as a modest and simple home-grown venture. After years working in the disability field, I needed a better way to change attitudes. Brother Martin had some spare time so he videoed while I baked and the YouTube channel was born in time for Christmas. But an idea alone doesn’t get far if no-one else knows about it!
The Holman competition was the new catalyst: Challenging me to voice my goals, demanding more visibility and galvanising a rather modest toe-in-the-water towards a more professional splash. After six months, I’m still at the start of the learning curve but we are making progress.
I’ve thrown caution to the wind and want to take Baking Blind global! If I succeed, the competition would make travel across six continents possible for me and my current videographer – cooking with professionals and home-cooks, sighted or not. Thanks to the support of enthusiasts in America, Costa Rica, Australia, China and Malawi, we’d gather enough material to produce a whole year of vlogs and blogs. Probably most importantly, the prestige of the competition would lift the profile of everything we are trying to do: creating a Launch pad to change minds about life with blindness in all those countries and, perhaps, even further afield.
Now, amazingly, there is just a chance to take another leap forward. Next month, a committee of the best and brightest blind people internationally and the author of the James Holman biography will judge the projects of us 11 finalists and announce three winners in early July.
There’s a Navy theme too that is important personally: the competition commemorates James Holman who, like me , lost his sight while serving in the Royal Navy, but he went on to travel the globe solo about 200 years ago as celebrated in the “A Sense of the world” biography. It’s difficult to imagine how he managed without all the technology and equipment that nowadays makes life with blindness possible. But I hope that our shared military backgrounds give me some of his courage and character. His early years in the Navy were spent just a few miles from where I live and there are almost certainly still some landmarks he would have recognised in Portsmouth Naval Base where I often worked. This year adds another dimension: it is the centenary of the Women’s Royal Naval Service so I’ve already been sharing Navy memories and Baking Blind ideas through the WRNS 100 Facebook page.
So please wish me luck and keep your fingers crossed – I’m trying to balance the excitement with the reality of a great bunch of fellow finalists. You can check out their inspirational ideas.
Penny Melville-Brown OBE
Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk
Helping disabled people to work since 2000