Military charity celebrates 100 years of service with special event in Newcastle

Date
1 April 2015 11:49

Yesterday (21/04), more than 100 local blind veterans and guests gathered in Newcastle to celebrating the 100th anniversary of the foundation of Blind Veterans UK in 1915 – and mark 100 years of service to blind and vision-impaired ex-Service men and women.

The centenary was honoured with a special celebration and afternoon tea party and all the guests marked the day dressing up in the Blind Veterans UK colours of red white and blue.

One veteran who attended is Bill Mooney. He wanted to thank Blind Veterans UK for the support it has provided him since losing his sight by presenting the charity with a centenary bowl that he has made from Burr Elm.

Bill, 72 and from Stanley, joined the Royal Artillery in 1964 and served in the UK before being discharged as a Gunner in 1969.

He began to lose his sight in 2007 due to retinal detachment and has had 10 operations since then. He has received help and support from Blind Veterans UK since 2010.   

Bill said: "I'm so pleased that I can thank Blind Veterans UK for everything they have given me.

"I don't know how to describe the change in my life apart from that my whole outlook has gone from half-empty to half-full."

Bill thought that he would never be able to continue his wood-turning hobby once he lost his sight but, with the help of Blind Veterans UK, he has been able to keep producing work by adapting his methods. The centenary bowl he has made is one of the latest examples that he is still producing.

He added: "The most important thing that Blind Veterans UK has given me is the feeling of independence and confidence. I still want to challenge myself every day." 

Another veteran that attended the event to thank the charity for their life-changing help is Darren Blanks.

Darren, 28 and from Egremont in Cumbria, served in the King's Royal Hussars from 2003 to 2008 and completed two tours of Iraq.

After leaving the Army, he was diagnosed with Leber's optic neuropathy, a rare genetic disease which has gradually caused him to lose his sight.

Darren has taken on several physical challenges such as the London Marathon and a 100km walk in 24 hours to raise money for Blind Veterans UK. He recently completed the Brighton Marathon and next month will be taking on the Keswick to Barrow challenge raising more money for the charity that he says has changed his life.

Darren said: "When I began losing my sight I thought my life was over. I had two driving jobs at the time and knew I'd have to give them up. I loved walking and running in the fells and was sure that I wouldn't be able to do that anymore. The thought of not seeing my children was the hardest.

"Through Blind Veterans UK I have been able to meet other people in the same situation as me and learn that there is life beyond sight loss. The charity has also provided me with training and skills to allow me to continue to live independently. The computer training has been especially life changing."

Elizabeth Dodds, North East Welfare Officer for Blind Veterans UK, said: "We have held this event to celebrate the centenary of Blind Veterans UK.  The 100 guests here today are just some of the thousands from this area that the charity has helped throughout its 100 year history.

"In 2015, Blind Veterans UK is helping more people than ever before in the charity's history. There are still thousands of veterans with sight loss that could be entitled to our help though. Today is a good day to remind people to contact Blind Veterans UK if they or someone they know could be receiving our free, lifelong support."

If you know someone who served in the Armed Forces, or those who did National Service, and is now battling severe sight problems, Blind Veterans UK may be able to provide them and their family with a lifetime's practical and emotional support for free. Call freephone - 0800 389 7979 or go to www.noonealone.org.uk now.

Blind Veterans UK, the national charity for blind and vision-impaired ex-Service men and women, was founded in January 1915. The charity's initial purpose was to help and support soldiers, sailors and airmen blinded in World War I, but the organisation went on to support more than 35,000 blind veterans and their families, spanning World War II to recent conflicts including Iraq and Afghanistan, regardless of when they served or how they lost their sight.

Today, Blind Veterans UK provides free services and help to veterans no matter what the cause of their sight loss, be it due to accidents, illnesses or medical conditions such as Macular Degeneration. The charity currently provides rehabilitation, training, care and recreational activities via its three centres (in Brighton, Llandudno and Sheffield) and a network of welfare staff spanning the UK.