How a blind Ashton man is inspiring others with his unique passion
Monday 21st August 2017 16:45 Ashton Business News Posted by Adam Higgins

An Ashton man who suddenly became blind nine years ago is inspiring others with a unique passion he has since acquired.

In 2008, Chris Fisher’s life changed forever when he lost his sight completely in the space of just a few weeks.

As a way of focusing his efforts on something positive, the 48-year-old took up the craft of wood turning.

Now, Chris is one of only a few blind wood turners in the world and is commonly known as The Blind Wood Turner.

In an interview with Tameside Radio, the former engineer, who has also trained to be a pilot, described the experience in which his livelihood was turned upside down in such a short space of time.

“In October 2008, I woke up one morning with very blurred eyesight and I thought at first it would clear up in a while after a lie-in on a Sunday morning but it didn’t clear up,” he explained.

“So I went to the opticians the following day and my eyes were non-responsive to the drops or the lights.

“The opticians managed to have a look at the back of my eyes and they were swollen so he said I needed to go the eye hospital straight away.

“So I went the following day and they thought it could have been early macular degeneration, which is a condition that affects primarily older people or it could have been uveitis, which is an arthritic form of blindness.

“They said they didn’t know what was going on at first but pretty much straight away I started going blind and my vision was going rapidly. I knew something was drastically wrong.

“Four weeks later, I was completely blind and the angiogram showed my retinas had been eaten away and were scarring over. The diagnosis was actually toxoplasmosis, which is contracted from animal waste.

“I could have picked it up on the park years ago as a kid and it could have laid dormant and was triggered off.”

Soon after his life-changing diagnosis, Chris decided to take up an unusual hobby…for an unusual reason.

“It makes people laugh when I tell them but the reason I got into wood turning was because I’m a huge horror film fan and I love the Dracula films,” he said.

“I wanted a vampire stake but I didn’t just want to get a piece of wood and whittle the end, so I wanted something a bit more artistic and stylish and decorative.

“That’s the way it started – I’d obviously heard of wood turning and I thought the way to go about this would be wood turning. I didn’t know how to wood turn so I turned to YouTube, which is a great source for practically everything.

“I treated it like school and I listened to YouTube for six hours every day for about three months. I learnt all the jargon, the tools, the techniques, the machinery and the safety involved. It’s a dangerous hobby!

“Once I’d got an array of mental pictures and thought I was in the ball park, I went out and bought a lathe so I could teach myself. I now have the vampire stake and I keep it on a plinth in my workshop to remind me how it all started.”

Nickname: Chris is affectionately known as The Blind Woodturner

Chris admitted losing his sight was a massive disability to come to terms with but he has turned something he enjoys – wood turning – into more than just an interest.

He turns hand crafted, one of a kind, bespoke pieces of art, including bowls, goblets and candlesticks, as well as ballpoint pens and fountain pens in both wood and acrylic.

Chris now has a YouTube channel as a way of illustrating his work to others and travels around the country, speaking about his experiences and giving public wood turning demonstrations.

Explaining why mastering the art of wood turning came so easily to him, Chris said: “Wood turning has been around for many hundreds of years and obviously people used to do it on the pole and the treadle lathes in the forests and stately homes which have had beautiful spindles, chair legs and four poster beds.

“I like to put it in the same context as stonemasonry and those ancient old crafts which helped build this amazing country. Since teaching myself to be a wood turner, I’ve embraced it and it’s a massive passion of mine.

“I’ve never flown a desk, if I can say that, I’ve always worked with my hands. When I left school I became a crankshaft engineer and always worked in engineering and then I ended up doing automotive work.

“My late father was an engineer and my brother is an architect but very gifted artist as well, so it runs in the family. We’ve always been good with our hands.

“Wood turning was something that I found easy to get my head round but learning how to wood turn with no sight at all is a different story. I think the genetic programming was already there for me to give it a go.”

Chris still struggles on a daily basis with routine things that we may take for granted but remains motivated by his goal to inspire others by demonstrating that anything is possible.

He described how he got through the early stages of his disability, with the help of a daring activity and a charity he now actively supports.

Chris explained: “I remember the day the consultant said ‘I’m sorry, there’s nothing we can do, you’ll be blind for your whole life’. I did cry that day because it was a huge shock and it’s a massive blow to be told that.

“The first year, I was so busy with the rehabilitation and I attended a couple of college courses learning how to cook for the blind. But it was approximately a year after going blind that anxiety started to get a firm grip.

“I had prolonged bouts of nausea and panic attacks, palpitations, not sleeping. My support worker had taken me out some days and I had to go home because I came over all nauseous or I’d turn up to work and say I couldn’t do anything because I felt shocking.

“So I had 12 sessions of counselling with the RNIB and that worked really, really well because you start getting your feelings and emotions out. It was a massive help and I also had a drive with a team called Speed of Sight.

He added: “Nicola, my partner, and I are now ambassadors for the charity and it was Mike Newman, the world’s fastest blind man, who has nine world records, who gave me a thrilling drive in an adapted car.

“It was the start of a new me. It was a huge turning point and a milestone for me and I’ve not looked back since really. It’s physically and mentally tiring being blind but it is what it is and I’m in a good place right now.”

To see and read more of Chris’s work, visit his website, theblindwoodturner.co.uk.

 

Main picture:

Picture of concentration: Chris Fisher in wood turning action