Your browser or operating system is not supported

If you view our website on this device, the site will not display as intended. Some functionality may not work correctly.

We recommend you upgrade your software or view our website on an alternate device or browser.

To sign up to play or for help with your People’s Postcode Lottery account, call our Customer Experience team on 0808 109 8765 or email us at

Skip to Main Content


The Courage Of Glen

Dad who survived Hillsborough and losing his sight shares how the RNIB's Talking Books gave him the power to turn his life around
Glen faced an uncertain future, but with support from RNIB the dad-of-three countered his worst fears and found motivation, comfort and peace

GLEN Flatley talks about surviving the Hillsborough disaster as if he's been transported 35 years back to that hellish day.

Through tears he recalls escaping the deadly crush while a family friend, aged just ten, was killed alongside 96 other football fans in Britain's worst sporting tragedy.

The nightmare has haunted Glen since he was 19 and even threatened to destroy him, "From that time I had stress and anxiety and panic. I felt as if I was dying every single day."

Months later he was diagnosed with the eye condition Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) and suffered rapid sight loss - going completely blind by the age of 30.

It is a huge irony, then, that what happened to Glen became the making of him.

With support from the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), the determined dad-of-three countered his worst fears to build a better future for himself.

He found motivation, comfort and peace - as well as endless mysteries and adventures - through the RNIB's Talking Books programme. The free service - in a range of accessible formats to suit blind and partially sighted people - is supported by players of People's Postcode Lottery.

Then he pushed himself through college and university to get the education - and prospects - he never achieved at school.

Glen, now 53, from Merseyside, said, "When I went blind, I never thought 'Why me?', it was 'Why not me?'

Glen enjoys his latest Talking Books novel

"I'm a believer that things do happen for a reason. I think that out of every tragedy something positive can come.

"If I hadn't gone blind, I wouldn't be sat here today. I would probably have plodded along in a menial, not very well-paid, job. I left school with no qualifications and not many prospects.

"I spent a couple of years at home looking after my youngest daughter and thought 'I can't bring up my daughter like this, I've got to do something more.'"

Read All About It

Glen's younger brother Chris lost his sight after being diagnosed with RP. And because of that Glen recognised he also had many of the symptoms. Turns out their parents both carried the defective gene meaning that their sons both were genetically predisposed to getting the progressive condition.

Opening up about his life after Hillsborough and sight loss, Glen said, "My 20s were a difficult time. For a lot of people, it was the time of their lives. But for me, it was just the worst decade with Hillsborough and my sight loss deterioration.

"I was in the thick of the crush and had a family friend with me, a young boy who was only ten, who died.

"After that, I had daily panic attacks. Every day I thought I was dying. I'd hyperventilate and get pins and needles. I learned to use a bag to breathe into. I was in fight or flight mode and felt as though I needed to run.

"My sight diagnosis didn't affect me as much because I was struggling to cope with the trauma from that incident, and I hadn't anticipated how quickly my sight would go."

He added, "I don't know if the trauma made my vision deteriorate quicker, but I doubt the stress helped with the retention of my vision."

Glen found the episodes of panic and anxiety disappeared after being introduced to Talking Books.

He said, "I had shunned all the help I was offered from social services. Eventually, I thought I needed to do something, and a vision rehabilitation worker came to see me.

"I couldn't watch TV anymore and socialising had become difficult, so they suggested Talking Books. I had never read a book in my life apart from in school... the ones I had to read. I'd never read a novel or any kind of book for pleasure. They got me a Talking Book player and a book got sent randomly."

It was The Eye of the Tiger by best-selling author Wilbur Smith.

Glen said, "I remember putting it into the Talking Books player and being instantly gripped. I read it over a weekend and was captivated by it. That's what got me hooked. From that point on I just read, read, read. I've probably read around 1,500 books since then.

"Talking Books made me realise that I could get educated, find employment and do something with my life.

"It gave me the confidence to go and retrain at the Royal National College for the Blind. I then attended a course at the University of Central England, where I became a qualified vision rehab worker."

He added, "Talking Books is probably one of the main factors for helping me to cope with the effects of all the trauma. When I listened to them, I was taken away from all the fear I had, the PTSD from Hillsborough, the fear of losing my sight.

"The anxiety and panic was worse than the blindness. If someone said 'You have two choices: you can have your sight back to partial sight but you've got to live with that level of anxiety every day,' I wouldn't take my sight back. That's how bad it was.

"Where did that go? I got to distract my mind away from anxiety and mental health. It was being able to get into a fantastic story and completely forget about the anxiety. I like taking my mind away from real life."

Glen's favourite author is JK Rowling, "Just for the Harry Potter series - they take me to another place."

He loves fantasy like Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, crime fiction writer Harlan Coben, masters of horror Stephen King and James Herbert and apocalyptic authors like Cormac McCarthy.

Since 2008, Glen has proudly worked for the RNIB as a Trust Fundraising Executive. And social worker wife Gillian, 52, has been with him every step of the way over the past 37 years. They celebrate their Silver Wedding anniversary later this year. Glen and his wife Gillian celebrate their silver wedding anniversary this year

Getting Lost In A Good Book

Now they are facing another hurdle. Glen has been diagnosed with a benign brain tumour which will leave him deaf in one ear. His biggest fear now is going completely deaf.

Glen said, "I found out a couple of years ago that I had developed a benign brain tumour, in the worst place on the acoustic nerve. This is where I did say 'Why me?'

"At diagnosis, it was more a relief that it wasn't cancer... it wasn't a brain tumour that would kill me.

"The biggest fear I've got now is losing my hearing in my good ear. No sight, no hearing, no communication skills."

That fear's been exacerbated because Glen and Gillian's oldest child - daughter Caitlin, 26 - gets married this summer.

He said, "I think of my daughter having kids and all the things I'll miss out on with my grandchildren. It'll be hard enough not seeing them, but not to hear them as well...

"I'm strong-minded but it still gets me. It's the thought of all the things I'll miss out on, although I've got a lot of experience of hiding the emotion.

"RNIB's Talking Books is helping me to stay calm. Getting lost in a good book really does help me to forget about my worries and fears and helps keep anxiety and panic at bay."

He added, "It's crucial that Talking Books are free because they're so expensive to buy. If you had to pay for them, so many people would be excluded. There are so many people who are visually impaired living on a low income."

Resilient Glen remains thankful and said, "I do look back with an immense amount of pride at what I've managed to achieve.

"Gillian and I have been through some really rough times, but we've stayed together. That's what true love is. We've got to be thankful for what we've got - our home, three amazing kids.

"Going blind gave me more confidence in myself. It made me a much stronger person and more resilient."

Gillian said, "I just want him to keep going, to be positive. I just look at all the good things we've done."

Making A Difference

People's Postcode Lottery players are helping deserving causes like RNIB make a difference every single day. Read more about the range of Charities that our players support.

Related Links

Published: 15/04/2024

Read next