Blind woodworkers handcraft the perfect gifts for Christmas

8 December 2015

A group of blind veterans supported by military charity Blind Veterans UK have turned Santa's elves to hand craft wooden gifts for this festive season.

Veteran hand craft wooden gifts

Peter Burbery, 79 and Ted Heasman, 90, are among the blind and vision-impaired ex-Service men and women who have turned their hand to making racing cars and bird boxes to raise funds to support the charity's work.

Peter (pictured) has assembled at least forty bird boxes since he started visiting the arts & crafts workshop at the Blind Veterans UK Brighton Centre. He says, "It was the wood that attracted me. I've always played with wood, cutting and shaping walking stick handles from branches. And I was an upholsterer and woodwork came into that."

Peter became an upholsterer after his National Service with the Royal Sussex Regiment for two years - from 1954 to 1956. He was a 'batman': a personal assistant and valet to a General, whose duties included keeping equipment clean and waiting tables.

Peter began to lose his sight due to glaucoma and then, in around 2008, he began to experience macular degeneration too. He says, "Everything is misty - there are no clear outlines to anything. I need someone with me if I go for a walk because I can't see the footpath"

Despite his sight loss, it takes Peter only a day to put together a robin or blue tit box and treat the pine with waterproof varnish. He explains, "We use a non-smelly varnish so the birds stay happy. And each box has a regulation RSPB-sized hole."

Peter's friend Ted (pictured) has made forty-nine wooden racing cars since he joined Blind Veterans UK - half of those for sale this Christmas. The fiftieth, he plans to paint green and number '50'. He says, "My sister wants that one."

Ted always enjoyed woodturning as a hobby but, twelve years ago, he began to lose his sight due to dry age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness in older people.

Ted says, "When my sight went, I sold my lathe and I had to give up driving too. I used to cycle with my brother-in-law, and then I had to give that up. My wife and I had to travel on buses."

Ted was a radar operator in the Royal Navy during the Second World War, serving on ships sailing around Asia and to South Africa.

Since he contacted Blind Veterans UK in 2012, he has received help and support including a Merlin Low Vision Magnifier that he uses to view the old photos he collects. But for him, a big part of the support he receives comes from the two days a week he spends at the arts & crafts workshop.

He says, "Just coming here is amazing. The comradeship is like the Navy."
Handmade by blind veterans 2

Handmade wooden birdboxes and racing cars are among the Christmas handicrafts now available to buy on the Blind Veterans UK website. Many of these beautiful gifts are coloured red, white and blue to celebrate the charity's 100-year anniversary.

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Blind Veterans UK (formerly St Dunstan's) was founded in 1915 and the charity's initial purpose was to help and support soldiers blinded in World War I. But the organisation has gone on to support more than 35,000 blind veterans and their families, spanning World War II to recent conflicts including Iraq and Afghanistan.

For 100 years, the charity has been providing vital free training, rehabilitation, equipment and emotional support to blind and vision impaired veterans no matter when they served or how they lost their sight.