Military charity unveils plaque marking 100 years of service in Brighton

3 March 2015 17:22

Today Blind Veterans UK celebrated the 100th anniversary of the charity’s foundation in 1915 – and marked 100 years of service to blind and vision-impaired ex-Service men and women in Brighton.

The centenary was honoured with the unveiling of a plaque in Brighton, at the site of their longest serving care and training centre, Sussex House in Kemptown. Blind Veterans UK, formerly St Dunstan's, used the building from 1917 to 1995 but begun working in Brighton in 1915.

Sussex House is now part of the Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals Trust and is, amongst other things, currently the base for the county's Diabetic Retinopathy Screening Programme. The trust has generously agreed to help the military charity mark its centenary by displaying the plaque and hosting the unveiling ceremony.

The plaque was unveiled by Raymond Hazan OBE, 70 and from Seaford, a blind veteran who has received support from the charity for more than 40 years and is also its president.

Ray was totally blinded, lost his right hand and suffered severe hearing loss in an IRA parcel bomb explosion in 1973. He was on his second tour of duty with the Army in Northern Ireland at the time. He has been helped by Blind Veterans UK ever since and became the charity's president in 2004.

Ray said: "This is a very special day for me and the charity. I am honoured to have been asked to unveil this plaque. When I was first injured I did my initial training in this building. To me, it signifies the beginning of my journey discovering life beyond sight loss.

"I owe Blind Veterans UK so much. I have made so many friends over the years and gone on to achieve things that I would never have believed possible when I first lost my sight."

Another person attending the ceremony is Jill Dunn who has a connection to the building and the charity going back almost 60 years.

Jill, 86 and from Portslade, started working at Sussex House - then called Pearson House after the founder of Blind Veterans UK Sir Arthur Pearson - in 1959. She worked as one of the charity's VADs (Voluntary Aid Detachments) until leaving in 1970 to marry Dennis Dunn, one of the blind veterans supported by the charity.  At the time, she lived in the adjoining cottage, Westcott House.

Jill said: "It wasn't like a hospital at all, it was much more like a family home. It really was a beautiful place to work. Our job as VADs was to care for the veterans but also provide companionship. We would often accompany them to the theatre or take them down to the bookies!

"The people of Kemptown were so good to us. They always let us jump queues in shops or at the barbers and helped when we were out and about in the area.

"The building has a special place in my heart as I met my husband there. It will be lovely to look around the old place and see what has changed." 
 Lesley Garven, manager of the Blind Veterans UK centre in Ovingdean, said: "We unveiled this plaque to celebrate the centenary of Blind Veterans UK.  The charity has got such a connection with the Brighton area and has had a presence here from its earliest days.

"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."

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.