Almost two million people in the UK are living with sight loss, according to figures from the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB).
Of these, about 360,000 people are registered blind or partially-sighted because of severe and irreparable sight loss.
These stark statistics have galvanised Lions Clubs International in the British Isles and Ireland, including Spalding Lions, to be Knights for the Blind in response to an impassioned plea 90 years ago by American author, lecturer, political activist and disability champion Helen Keller.
Speaking at the Lions Clubs International Convention in 1925, Miss Keller said: “Try to imagine how you would feel if you were suddenly stricken blind today.
“Picture yourself stumbling and groping at noonday as in the night – your work and your independence gone.
“In that dark world, wouldn’t you be glad if a friend took you by the hand and said ‘Come with me and I will teach you how to do some of the things you used to do when you could see’.
“If you care, if we can make the people of this great country care, the blind will indeed triumph over blindness.”
On Saturday, members of Spalding Lions took up Miss Keller’s challenge in the same week as World Sight Day (which happens to be today) by hosting a market stall with help from Spalding Phab (Physically and Able-Bodied) Club.
Spalding Lions member Eileen Robson said: “Our involvement with sight awareness began many years ago with Helen Keller and one of the main elements of it is to draw attention to people who have real issues with their sight.”
Visitors to the stall in Market Place on Saturday found leaflets detailing the Lions Eye Health Programme to prevent and treat glaucoma, a condition where the sight nerves are damaged to the point of so-called tunnel vision and eventual blindness.
The RNIB estimates that one-in-five people aged between 75 and 90 lose their sight, a figure rising to one-in-two for people over 90.
Leonard Sharpe of the Spalding Macular Society Support Group for people whose sight is affected by a deterioration of the macula, or part of the back of the eye responsible for our central vision and seeing different colours, said: “When you are first told you have the condition, the bottom falls out of your world.
“Suddenly you can’t drive anymore and daily tasks you used to take for granted become more difficult.
“But going to a group and having the opportunity to talk to people in a similar position makes all the difference and the main purpose of the group is to support people who are diagnosed with central vision loss because, often, they live alone and are devastated to have the condition.
“I like volunteering for the Macular Society (the main charity supporting people with macular conditions) because I get to meet so many wonderful people from all walks of life with the hope that I can help in some small way.”
Shoppers and district councillors James Avery and Pete Williams had the chance to “be blind” when they were taking for a walk in Market Place wearing a blindfold and with the help of a guide dog.
Coun Williams said: “It’s amazing what you hear when you’re blindfolded and I knew immediately where the ice cream van was because I could hear the engine running, which gave some bearings as to where I was.
“Then you realise when you’re coming up to a crowd of people because you can hear the noise of chatter. Your senses become intensified as you approach people, so I can imagine how sharp the senses of blind people become over a period of time.”
With the number of people in the UK with sight loss expected to double to nearly four million by 2015, according to the charity Action for Blind People, Spalding Lions are set to be Knights for the Blind for years to come.
Lions district governor Paul Stafford said: “To be blind is one of the most frightening experiences possible.”