As we celebrate the 75th anniversary year of the Brighton centre it was appropriate that Joan Osborne was asked by centre manager Lesley Garven to turn the lights on. Joan has known Blind Veterans UK her entire life and as a young girl she spent the Christmas of 1938 at the centre with her family, a time she remembers fondly. Surrounded by her family and her many friends Joan delivered a very moving speech before switching the lights on and illuminating the exterior of the front of the building with the Blind Veterans UK logo, 75th anniversary message and search lights.
Centre Manager Lesley Garven introducing Joan saying “Welcome everyone. Well, this is a fantastic occasion for us. We are celebrating the 75th Anniversary of this wonderful building in Brighton. It was opened in 1938 and the foundations were laid on behalf of Blind Veterans UK, formerly St Dunstan’s, by Lady Fraser for the sole purpose of providing a safe place for former Servicemen and women who become blind to learn new skills and take forward their life with purpose.”
“This centre is much more than bricks and mortar – its about the people, they are the cornerstone of this building, and Joan Osborne and her family have been a cornerstone since 1938. So it gives me great pleasure in asking Joan to say a few words before we have the countdown to switching on the lights that will shine over the building for the next three nights from 25th to 27th October.”
Joan began: “My father lost his sight, his left arm and sustained other serious injuries when he was 20 years old, when he was wounded at Ypres on the 31st July 1917. At the time he didn’t know which impact this would have on his life”
“I was only 11 years old when this great new building was opened in 1938 and we spent the first Christmas here, together with the First World War veterans who stayed in dormitories. Women weren’t allowed to stay here but thankfully that changed, but not until 1985. We also came for Christmas in 1939 just before we transferred to Church Stretton because of the war. This building was then taken over by the Royal Navy and called HMS Vernon.
“Happily I returned to Brighton in 1946 with my parents as my father was a Braille teacher and I was a member of the Music Department and it’s where I met my husband Bob.
“Bob was only 20 years old when he was wounded; having lost his sight, an arm and lef in the horrendous Battle of Hill 112 in Normandy on 22th July 1944. Bob and I ran a shop here for 22 years and met some wonderful characters who arrived without hope, but they left with confidence and skills that prepared them to lead an independent life. Men like Dickie Brett, a member of the blind and handless group who went on to become a highly skilled carpenter. Dickie received great support and inspiration from the WWI veterans and this continues to this day when the WWI veterans in turn help the newly blinded Servicemen.
“If i had my life over again I wouldn’t change a thing. I would like to say how honoured and proud I am to celebrate this occasion with everyone here.”
The Ovingdean centre has been a key part of Blind Veterans UK’s work since 1938, when the charity was known as St. Dunstan’s. In that time, it has offered comprehensive support for thousands of blind veterans. Thousands of veterans travel from all over the country each year to receive life changing support from Blind Veterans UK in Brighton. We are proud of the quality of our services, and we wanted to celebrate with the wider community all that we achieve through the spectacular light display.
Currently, the centre serves blind veterans by offering respite, residential and nursing care, plus a ‘home away from home’ for holiday makers. As well as helping with fitness and mobility, the centres’ skilled staff and excellent facilities help give veterans with sight loss the skills they need to live an independent life.