Thank you, St Petersburg: A letter from a special school

15th June 2015 at 12:00
The WESC group
Three A-level students from a specialist school for visual impairment are visiting St Petersburg to learn about Russian history and culture. The students, from the WESC Foundation in Exeter, are accompanied by their teacher Julian Davey and their carer Huw Hennessy, who will be blogging throughout the trip. For their final blog, the group has written a thank you letter to St Petersburg.

We’re home at last ─ from Nevsky Prospect’s grand facades to Devon’s rolling hills.

Throughout the trip, our sound technician Mike Cook was busy interviewing people and making sound recordings of everything from Metro trains to buskers. Now, we can bring St Petersburg to life for the rest of the school.

And, as we reflect on our experiences, we want to write a big thank you letter to all the people who made it such an unforgettable experience.

First, we would like to thank everyone at the Constantine Grot School, Russia’s oldest school for the blind, for their warm and generous welcome. The school’s focus is quite different from our own, particularly with regard to integrating visually impaired and blind students into the community.

But, just as we had hoped, Grot School is keen to form links with the WESC Foundation for future joint activities. It could be very exciting to develop an ongoing relationship, as there is huge scope for us to learn from each other.

Thank you also to the people on the Metro, from the burly guards who helped Tom up and down escalators to the passengers who gave up their seats.

And thank you to everyone at the State Hermitage Museum. I still cannot believe we had a free, private tour of its dazzling halls ─ with only security guards and art students for company.

Most of all, we want to thank the Petersburgers for their thoughtfulness and patience. It’s not just those who helped us out on the Metro who deserve a mention, but also those who helped us on buses and in shops, restaurants and everywhere we went. They prompted us when our feeble grasp of Russian failed and directed us when we were lost or confused.

So, is St Petersburg an easy city to get around for blind and visually impaired visitors? In a word: no. We saw only one blind person and one person in a wheelchair in the city, although obviously we had only a random snapshot. Few places have lifts or entrance ramps or tactile pavements and the vast Metro is daunting. But is it worth the effort? Absolutely – Da!

We’ll give the last word to our group poet, Harry, who had this to say about all the walking we did around the city:

Russia was indeed a task,

the sound of engines the wind did mask.

The challenge of Russia we did beat,

As a result we now have 80 feet!

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