Olympic effort from Blue Peter chef
For many people watching Blue Peter is part of growing up and the thought of appearing on the show is beyond their wildest dreams. But for 16-year-old Jake Sawyers he did more than just get his hands on the coveted Blue Peter Badge – he actually helped present it.
This is just one in a long line of amazing achievements – his next being helping to promote the 2012 Olympic Games.
But the one memory that will remain with him is his Blue Peter experience. After coming through a tough selection process, Jake was the resident chef on the programme for two years and as well as cooking in the studio, he also rustled up meals on a cruise ship with celebrity chef Marco Pierre White, appeared on Ready Steady Cook and prepared a feast for the Welsh rugby team before a world cup match.
And the teenager from Port Talbot just happens to be visually impaired. He’s blind in his left eye with only 25 per cent vision in his right.
“I was just watching Blue Peter and they announced a competition called Can You Cook It,” beamed a confident Jake. “You had to enter online and had to fill in questions and answers like what’s your favourite food? What would you cook for people if they came over for a dinner party and things like that? They emailed me back to say I had got an interview in Cardiff which was amazing because I’d got past the first stage.
“I had to go up to Cardiff and had to chop a fruit or vegetable and I chose a Leek because I’m Welsh so I chopped and talked about that and it got me down to the final three in Wales. They then chose me and another girl and we went to a boot camp in England. The final 12 from throughout the UK were there and we had to take part in lots of challenges. Like we had to milk a goat and talk about it, be on a roller coaster and talk about our favourite foods – that was a really fun experience. And then from the final 12 we were down to the final three and we had to go to the Blue Peter studio and cook soufflé and talk about it as if we were on the show presenting and they announced I was the winner.”
Every month between 2007 and 2009 Jake appeared on the show meeting and having his photos taken with a host of celebrities. The talented teenager described it as the best experience in his life but it wasn’t until the end of the selection process that he revealed he had a visual impairment.
“It’s not that I wasn’t going to tell them I’m visually impaired because I didn’t want them to know but it’s not one of the main things you mention,” he explained. “It’s not like hi I’m Jake Sawyers I’m visually impaired. It’s good for people to know and to inspire other visually impaired people but at the same time I don’t want other people to think I won it because I’m visually impaired so I’ve got an upper hand but won it because of my skill.”
Although born with a visual impairment, the former Cefn Saeson School pupil has refused to let it rule his life and has taken in his stride obstacles he’s faced while growing up.
“I used to enjoy going to the eye hospital in London every year because I used to enjoy going up to London,” he said. “But I remember wearing these huge Harry Potter circle glasses and I hated them and I used to throw them down drains because I hated them so much. Then I stopped wearing glasses and I was relieved.
“Then, as I was growing up in primary school I became more aware of my visual impairment but not in a bad way. I just thought people asking questions was great and I enjoyed getting all the attention. In comprehensive school I was really aware I had a visual impairment. We have a large visually impaired unit at school so I met a lot of friends there and learnt a lot of new things about other people with visual impairment and I guess that was the first time I was aware there was a lot of other visually impaired people in the world.”
And it is the bonds Jake has formed with his peers that has helped keep him positive.
He said. “I’m fine about being visually impaired. I get a lot of pride. You’re quite proud to be visually impaired because you are in a community of visually impaired people who are dealing with the same things and it’s nice to talk about it sometimes and share experiences.
“Sometimes I feel held back but it helps if you have the facilities like a magnifying glass or if you have a laptop.”
Jake said his family and friends have been supportive and he’s never been the victim of bullying. But everyday things most of us take for granted can be a challenge.
“In day to day life if I’m in a large crowd it’s hard to notice people,” he said. “If I’m in a shop it’s hard to see prices on things – just little things like that that add up. But not many people notice at first and they are really shocked when I tell them because they don’t see me as blind or visually impaired. When they find out they ask me a lot of questions which is fine because they are just curious.”
Looking forward to the future and with his GCSEs behind him, Jake is about to start studying drama at Neath Port Talbot College. He is already practicing his thespian skills at the BIG-funded UCAN Productions where members, who are all partially sighted, organise things like plays, dance and music workshops.
“Being visually impaired as given me lots of opportunities like UCAN and visually impaired clubs and I know lots of people across the country,” he said. “It’s like a huge network of visually impaired and blind people which is great because we are all friends.
“I’ve had some great experiences with UCAN. They come to my school each year and we put on a show for parents and teachers and anyone else who wants to come and that’s been a fun experience because you’re in a network of visually impaired people and people from school and your friends all mixed into one and you’re doing drama at the same time which is one of my loves.”
Jake is also a keen athlete and is looking forward to his role in 2012
He said: “In school I’m the county sports ambassador for Neath Port Talbot. With one of my friends we are promoting the Olympics in 2012 and every year we go to the National Junior Games with my sports team. I’ve been going there for six years and we win medals and that is a really great experience as well.”
The teenager, who is pleased money from the Big Lottery Fund’s £12 million Bright New Futures programme would help give more opportunities to disabled young people, had a clear message for other people who are blind or visually impaired.
“Don’t stop being who you are,” he said. “Don’t try to hide it. Don’t try to ignore the fact you have a visual impairment or are blind because you’ve got to accept it. In schools I’ve heard lots of people not wanting to use their magnifying glasses or anything and have gone out of their way not to use them because they’ve been bullied or something but you’ve just got to get up and do it really and live your life with it.
“There’s a sign on a door in my school which reads see me not my visual impairment and it sums it all up perfectly.”
Read a comic strip story about Jake and watch a video interview by visiting www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/brightnewfutures