Craig Happell speaker for Guide Dogs for the Blind with Merlin

Craig (left) and his colleague David with Merlin

Ayr Rotary Club was privileged recently to have Craig Happell as a speaker, accompanied by his eight year old guide dog Merlin. Without any reference to presentation prompts, Craig launched into explaining how he has to plan a day out. Highlighting the challenges of street furniture, the considerations of left or right?; how many junctions?; where are the bumpy slabs? (tactile slabs) Although, explained Craig Merlin is very clever as he’s always thinking about street clutter including wheelie bins and steps. Recent difficulties have been the impact of COVID which meant just walking around the block for two years and the installation of perspex screens, “a nightmare” said Craig. And he continued, when supermarkets switch round their shelves, it just adds another obstacle to a their day.

A new app-controlled traffic light program to help disabled people cross the road has gone live in Irvine – with North Ayrshire the first area to roll it out widely after pressure from a Craig, an Irvine resident. Neatebox works via a free downloadable app that remotely presses the button for the green man at traffic lights. Once the app is on a phone, it will automatically detect a crossing on approach, and will tell the box to instigate a safe crossing. Craig brought the project to Irvine West Cllr Scott Gallacher’s attention, with the pair fighting to get the app in Irvine for two years. Craig said “Using pedestrian crossings as a visually impaired person is one of the many difficulties you encounter everyday. I discovered the Button app and knew straight away the benefits it would have for people like myself.”

More recently, Craig and Merlin ventured to Glasgow by train, walking up and down Buchanan Street enabling both to experience the revived busyness of city vehicle and pedestrian traffic. Faithful Merlin is Craig’s second dog and it is planned to keep him after his retirement in two years. A resounding applause followed the end of Craig’s excellent presentation.

David Hope delivered a worthy vote of thanks