Over 300 of our blind veterans are still of working age and we have a specific group, the WAM team, to help them.
We run many courses, activities and educational programs, and last week seven of them attended LifeWorks Week at our Llandudno centre run in conjunction with our partners from Royal British Legion Industries (RBLi).
The LifeWorks program is there to help people whose circumstances have changed dramatically, and of course sight loss is a life-changing situation.
The program aims to help veterans with various aspects - by discovering new opportunities, identifying their strengths and suitable potential careers; developing employment skills including job searching, preparing CVs, interview techniques and practice, and finally confidence building and motivation.
One of our blind veterans attending LifeWorks Week was ex-Grenadier Guard Andy, 45, who lost his sight three years ago due to optic atrophy in both eyes.
Andy says that before joining Blind Veterans UK 18 months ago he felt totally alone, isolated and unable even to leave his home. He explained,
“I felt that with losing my sight, my life from then on was totally worthless”.
On joining the charity he was invited to attend our Llandudno centre for an induction week and freely admits that, “For the first couple of days I was in my shell, not at all engaged, really wondering why I was even there”.
So what made the difference?
“Talking to other blind veterans,” Andy says. Someone like Kev Alderton, himself a blind veteran who also works for the charity as WAM Co-ordinator (and incidentally was a Grenadier Guard too) based at our Brighton centre. Also, Billy Baxter - another blind veteran who works for us as Rehab and Training Liaison Officer at our Llandudno centre. Andy went on,
"They were so inspirational. Like me, they had suffered sight loss but they were really living their lives, so confident, so positive and I thought well, if they can do it, so can I”.
Andy says that was the turning point for him, he really enjoyed the rest of the induction week, and went home feeling positive and confident about his future and has not looked back since.
He said he was lucky to be included in our Project Gemini trip to Tucson, Arizona and has also been on an Activities Week held at Skern Lodge, North Devon and an Adrenaline Weekend.
Having always been a fitness fanatic, before sight loss he enjoyed extreme sports competitions, and says the opportunity to get out and really push himself has been wonderful.
So what did Andy take away from LifeWorks Week?
“I had already started to visit a couple of older veterans who were lonely in their homes near where I live - just offering them some company and chat. I really enjoyed doing that, and realised what a difference it can make. After the LifeWork Week, I am applying to university to take a degree in Psychology. It will be a four-year part-time course, and during that time I will also work on and off as a support worker. After that, I am aiming to do a one year Masters degree (MA). I'll be following that with 450 hours of supervised work, and at the end hope to become a Chartered Psychologist”.
Andy’s first step is to learn to touch type, a skill other blind veterans have told him is essential for keeping up with his studies at university - and it's a useful skill to have anyway. He will have ongoing support through the WAM team, and RBLi to achieve his short term goals, and then guidance to move forwards with his longer term goals
He believes that one of the biggest advantages of being part of the charity is being able to talk to other ex-service people with sight loss who are, or have gone, through the same feelings of loss and isolation. He missed the camaraderie of army life, but has that back, keeping in touch with the many blind veteran friends he has made through the charity.
Andy says that the bottom line is, before joining Blind Veterans UK he felt his life was at an end, but with our help, he is really looking forward to his new life.