Volunteering in action - Debs & Bernard's story

13 February 2019 08:00

Bernard Pennell, 80-year-old Army veteran from Northampton, has been receiving assistance from volunteer Debs Pittam for the past 18 months.


Debs & Bernard play snooker


Bernard, who was in the Royal Signals regiment, served in Germany between 1956 and 1959.

It was later in life at the age of 53 that he was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a leading cause of sight loss in elderly people. Three years later he was registered blind.

Luckily, in 2013, Bernard found out about Blind Veterans UK, and following an introductory week and IT courses at our rehabilitation centres, he was matched with volunteer Debs in 2017.

Bernard says: “Debs takes me for a weekly shop to the supermarket, to the odd appointment here and there and we also enjoy days out together to places like Cromer and Bedford.

"We’ve become friends and have a great relationship, I really look forward to seeing her every week. It’s not easy living on your own and loneliness does kick in from time to time so it’s a huge boost to know that Debs is going to be coming on a weekly basis."

“I couldn’t possibly do the shopping by myself so to have Debs around to help with that is an absolute godsend.”



Debs works for a pharmaceutical company that specialises in eye care. She was introduced to the charity through a CSR initiative that took place at the Blind Veterans UK rehabilitation centre in Brighton.

"Following my day in Brighton I saw that there was an unmet need that I could at least partially fill. I wanted to give something back to my community and felt it would be a worthwhile venture for both whoever I was paired with and myself."

She continues: “Bernard’s sight loss has progressed to the point where he can’t do the weekly shop by himself anymore so that’s where I come in and lend a hand on a weekly basis. We also go on day trips to all sorts of places where we have hearty walks and of course the odd gin and tonic or pint too.”

Debs & Bernard in the woods

“Blind Veterans UK has given me lots of support and training on working with vulnerable adults and guiding those with a visual impairment. Bernard’s condition means he doesn’t have much peripheral vision and suffers when moving from bright areas to dark. The guiding training has proved invaluable in those situations.”

“My best memory with Bernard actually happened very recently when he treated me to a day out and we had a meal while watching a Christmas show. We both started singing during a rendition of Silent Night and it was a very special moment, we both got a little bit teary!”