84 year old Oxfordshire blind veteran presents PM and Countess with hand-made bird boxes
17 December 2015
A blind veteran from Oxfordshire who has re-learned his carpentry skills with the help of a military charity has recently presented bird boxes and bug hotels to some very high profile people.
Bert Hallett, 84 and from Chipping Norton, has presented both Prime Minister David Cameron and Her Royal Highness the Countess of Wessex with the handmade boxes in the last two months to raise awareness of the charity Blind Veterans UK.
Bert was called up for National Service in 1951 and joined the South Staffordshire Regiment, completing his training at Litchfield. He served in the UK and was discharged in 1953 but remained in the Territorial Army until 1956.
He then worked as a bricklayer and developed an interest in woodwork throughout his career. However, Bert began to gradually lose his sight in 2000 so thought his woodworking days were over.
He says: "Realising I couldn't do DIY at home anymore was a key moment in losing my sight. It really knocks your independence. I have glaucoma in my right eye and can see nothing through that and most of my vision is now gone from the left one too."
Bert has been receiving help and support from Blind Veterans UK since 2011 and has visited the charity's Brighton centre for rehabilitation and training. It was there that he was introduced to the idea of trying carpentry again.
He says: "I'm so glad I was told about Blind Veterans UK, it has changed my life. I remember going to the arts and craft centre and saying to the staff that I wouldn't be able to do anything as I couldn't even see a pencil in my hand.
"I'm more than happy to admit that they proved me wrong. I started making my bird boxes straight away after being shown the techniques and provided with the templates. Pretty soon, everyone was calling me Bird Box Bert!
"I've now got a workshop set up at home and I've made more than 100 bird boxes and bug hotels. I love giving them to people along with information about Blind Veterans UK so they can learn more about this great charity."
Bert is also part of a Blind Veterans UK lunch club in Oxfordshire and regularly meets up with fellow veterans for social occasions. This lunch club was set up by blind veteran John Cantwell and his wife Elaine.
John, 67 and from Banbury, assisted Bert with getting in touch with the Prime Minister and Countess of Wessex and accompanied him on both visits. After meeting David Cameron at a local hotel and presenting his bird box and bug hotel, the two then contacted the Countess to ask to send her a box as a thank you for hosting a garden party at Buckingham Palace to celebrate the centenary of Blind Veterans UK.
John says: "Bert thought it would be nice to send a box as a thank you to the Countess for hosting such a wonderful day at the palace but we were so thrilled when she invited us to tea at Bagshot Park.
"She is a real supporter of sight loss charities and it was lovely to be able to speak to her about what Blind Veterans UK has done for us."
Bert added: "David Cameron said he would put his boxes up in the garden of number 10 and was really interested to learn more about the charity. I simply told him that I would have a much lonelier life without Blind Veterans UK.
"I've already started building my next set of bird boxes and bug hotels to send out in the New Year."