Life

Person Of The Week: Dave Kelly

Within two weeks of Dave Kelly first noticing something was wrong with his eyes he was blind. The 30-year-old had the rare eye condition retinitis pigmentos.

Suddenly he was unable to see anything except a white fog. As if life couldn’t get any worse, his wife later left, taking his daughter and he lost his job. Even some friends and family stayed away.

"I lost everything," says Dave, blaming the strain of losing his sight for the destruction of his marriage.

For two years Dave, who lost his job as a frozen food produce manager, struggled to live as a blind man. "I had to learn to cook blind. Do you realise all tins feel the same?" he jokes. "The amount of times I ended up with dog food on toast!"

"But no really, I was in the depths of despair. I was crying myself to sleep. It was two years in the wilderness. I lost friends and family. When you’re in a couple you get invited out, but now I was blind I think people thought: ‘what do I say to him?’ It was like a death. That Dave Kelly died."

Then one day Dave suddenly had a flash of inspiration. Previously a keen sportsman, he was walking along the street and could hear children playing football.

"I was feeling my way along by the walls," says Dave. "Then the kids shouted: 'Hey look over there, it's Spiderman.' It just made me laugh. If I was a 12 year old I would have done the same thing. I thought those kids are on to me. That moment changed my life."

It was then Dave came up with the idea of Daisy UK. Today it is a charity with inclusive sports clubs for people with disabilities, their friends and family, and it also runs Comic Relief and Sport Relief- funded disability and visual awareness sports courses for non-disabled people and people with disabilities. Activities include blind football among others.

Nationally, poor levels of knowledge or experience about disability among mainstream teachers and coaches result in disabled young people being excluded from, or singled out in, sports sessions, contributing to bullying and exclusion faced by disabled young people more broadly.

Daisy seeks to address this issue by using a reverse inclusion model, encouraging non-disabled players to participate in inclusive rules sports, such as blind football and wheelchair basketball, alongside their disabled peers.

"I had been in denial," says Dave. "The blindness had me and now I turned it around. I accepted it and once I did that I could move on. I rapidly became a blind man with a vision."

The project will run 30 one day inclusive sports courses over two years, giving 375 young people (both disabled and non-disabled) and their adult helpers, opportunities to try out inclusive sports and interact with each other in a fun environment.

The project aims to change attitudes towards disability among young people in the Merseyside area, to break down barriers between disabled and non-disabled young people, to increase confidence and self esteem among disabled young people and encourage more people to take up inclusive sport at grass roots level.

At the same time as founding Daisy UK, Dave went to university and became the first in his family to graduate. "I’ve done more in 15 years than I would have in 50 lifetimes," says Dave, who has also remarried.

"Thanks to Comic Relief funding we also have an opportunity to get out and help more people be aware of disabilities in sport."