“Even in the most challenging of times the charity is here for me. I know that I only have to pick up the phone and there are people out there who care greatly about me. That gives me hope each and every day.”Carl, blind veteran
Protecting our veterans
Over 12 days our team of frontline callers contacted 3,850 beneficiaries to make an immediate assessment of needs.
Our first priority was to ensure that those most vulnerable were getting their food and medication, and our staff and dedicated volunteers made 697 doorstep deliveries. We also knew that isolation was a real danger and so stepped up our telephone befriending service. From March to September our team made 12,089 befriending and emotional support calls making sure that those who needed a voice at the end of the phone were never alone.
Befriending: Meet Mike and Jim
Michael and Jim have been keeping isolation at bay with a weekly catch-up since the beginning of lockdown. Jim says: “I look forward to the calls. We really put the world to rights and are getting on very well.”
Michael has been volunteering for us for a couple of years and was initially visiting veterans at home, but this year he’s switched to virtual befriending. “I absolutely love my chats with Jim and the others. I just like looking out for people.”
New ways of working
At our Brighton Centre our staff switched to working two full weeks on and two weeks off to minimise the risk to our resident veterans and put in place rigorous infection control measures which ensured that the virus could not spread through the Centre.
Adapting our flag ship intro week
Our intro week, usually a week-long residential course for all veterans who join us, is a key part of them starting to rebuild their lives. In June we switched to running it via phone or online. Kev Alderton, who is a long-standing beneficiary, was on hand to talk about his own experiences and offer support and encouragement across the group. We made sure that the weeks continued to offer an informative intro to the practical and emotional advice available and continued to build the bonds between new beneficiaries and the Blind Veterans UK family.
"It's given me a feeling...that I've got somebody behind me to help me and to call on"
During lockdown 86-year-old veteran Ron got in touch with his Blind Veterans UK Support Worker who arranged remote training on his smartphone. Ron is now using his Synapptic phone to text and email his family and friends, search the internet and listen to the radio.
Ron says “Without the training on this phone I don’t know what I would have done during lockdown… I was able to keep in touch with my children and grandchildren in Australia and the UK, as well as keep up to date with the local and world news. I tell you what, it was an absolute lifesaver.”
Together for Christmas
At Christmas, our Llandudno Centre opened its doors to seven blind veterans who would otherwise have spent Christmas alone. After two weeks in self-isolation in separate rooms they were able to celebrate Christmas and New Year together. Highlights included the Queen's Speech and a Christmas Dinner with all the trimmings!
82-year-old RAF veteran, Arthur Harvey, has lived by himself since losing his wife four years ago. He says: "If it wasn’t for Blind Veterans UK I’d have been sitting at home by myself on Christmas Day which would have been a pretty lonely affair. When you’ve lost someone it becomes the hardest time of the year as you remember all your good times."
Virtual VE Day
We held over 30 virtual street parties, with 166 of our Second World War veterans swapping tales and catching up. We were honoured with a message from our Patron HRH the Countess of Wessex who summed up the spirit of the group, "It is when we work together and support each other that a far greater strength is revealed".
97-year old Margaret said "Normally I join up with a group of other blind veterans for lunch and I’m really missing them. I’m a very social person, so it was great to be able to catch up with old friends and remember VE Day"
Remembrance is an important time for our veterans. A time for them to get together, swap tales and remember old comrades. This year, as many were unable to leave their homes we brought over 400 together over group phone calls and video links to help them pay respects to the Fallen.
63-year-old Christine is a blind veteran whose artwork is featured in our Virtual Exhibition Fundraiser. Her entry is based on a photograph her son took of a Lake District landscape, completed in watercolour. Christine joined the RAF in 1977, and served for seven years. She started losing her sight at the age of 53 due to retinitis pigmentosa and we have supported her since.
"It’s seriously scary when you start to lose your sight. But I no longer feel afraid with Blind Veterans UK behind me"Christine, blind veteran
Fundraising in a pandemic
Stacey walked 200 miles from the Lake District to his home in Louth and raised £554.20 for Blind Veterans UK.
He decided to set himself the challenge when all the other charity events he planned to do were cancelled due to Covid-19. Instead, he completed the challenge in October 2020 and has so far raised a total of £2,771 which was divided between five charities. He says "I did the challenge over six days and it was a very tough week... I was chased by cows and I got really lost at one point because it was very misty and I couldn’t read my map properly! I really did enjoy it though..."
Stacey started fundraising for us after he temporarily lost his sight.
"I was lucky to regain my sight. When I did, I started to read other people’s stories about living with sight loss and Blind Veterans UK was mentioned a lot... Charities really need your help at the moment and with so many organised fundraising events being cancelled, it’s important that fundraisers come up with new ways to raise money safely. If I can do a challenge like this, so can you!"Stacey, Blind Veterans UK Supporter