Norwich blind veteran to welcome visitors to Hampton Court show garden

3 July 2017 14:00

A blind veteran from Norwich who receives vital support us will be visiting our show garden at the prestigious RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show this month.

Blind veteran Chris Humphrey in his garden tending his plants

Chris Humphrey, 65 and from Thorpe End, will be volunteering as an ambassador for Blind Veterans UK and welcoming visitors to the garden and encouraging anyone who could receive support from us to get in touch.

After joining the Royal Navy in 1967, Chris was first employed as a Junior Radio Operator on HMS Raleigh. He says: “I completed my initial training on HMS Raleigh, before completing my Branch Training on HMS Mercury.

"I then served on a number of ships, including HMS Cambrian, Tartar, Charybdis and the Antrim. I also served on a number of shore establishments including HMS Heron and Nelson."

Overall, Chris’ 11 years’ Service saw him travel as far as the Middle East, the Far East and the West Indies. He explains: “I went everywhere in the world, really, apart from Australia. We were actually meant to go there but our ship ended up catching fire! In the end we had to turn back to Singapore.”

Blind veteran Chris Humphrey in his garden tending his plants

Unfortunately for Chris, he suffers from Pseudoxanthoma elasticum, a genetic disorder that affects not only your sight, but the arteries in the rest of your body. He explains: “In a way, I’m lucky that my condition is confined to my sight, as it could’ve been a lot more serious. 

“I still have some peripheral vision in my right eye, but the vision in my left is very distorted.”

On how he came to hear about us, Chris explains: “I always saw collection pots for the charity in the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes, but I always assumed that only war-blinded veterans were eligible for their support. Luckily, my Social Services explained that I was entitled to it too.

"Right from day one the charity has made a huge impact on my life. I was taught how to use a computer with speech software. This was really important for as it allowed me to continue working."

For Chris, gardening entered his life in earnest as a result of him losing his sight. Despite the challenges posted by his vision-impairment, he’s still able to navigate his way round the garden using, amongst other things, equipment and his other senses. He explains “I use a special rope with knots to measure and feel things like planting distances. It’s amazing, really, just how much can be done with feel. I’ve also got a special adaptive watering can which doesn’t release the water until you press a certain button.”

“Even if I didn’t know my garden, I could still find my way by smell. Mock orange is really rather pungent right now!”

Chris will be volunteering on the Blind Veterans UK ‘It’s all about community’ garden at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show with other blind veterans supported by us when the show opens today.

Blind veteran Chris Humphrey in garden watering his hanging baskets

The garden has been designed by celebrated designers Andrew Fisher Tomlin & Dan Bowyer and it will be one of the largest show gardens at Hampton Court this year.

We support veterans regardless of when they served or how they lost their sight. The Blind Veterans UK community has grown and we now support more than 4,500 veterans, more than ever before in our history.

However, we estimate that there are up to 55,000 blind veterans that would be eligible to access our specialist support but are not currently aware of it. 

Chris adds: “I really can’t recommend the charity enough and would heartily encourage anyone to get in touch. Even if they think they can cope fine now, it’s about making sure you’re prepared for the future. It’s so much easier to adjust to severe sight loss if you start early.

"Whenever I’ve needed something, or wanted to know anything, there’s always someone I can ring for help. Blind Veterans UK has showed me that other people with far less sight than me can lead normal and happy lives. That really gave me confidence and I’m sure it can do the same for others."