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    Blind veterans go paddle boarding with the Project Gemini group!

    Blind military veterans from the US and South Africa have joined our blind veterans for paddle boarding in Colwyn Bay.

     

    The veterans, the majority of whom were blinded in Iraq and Afghanistan, are currently visiting Wales as part of a week-long trip to the UK for members of the US organisation Blinded Veterans Association (BVA), through an exchange programme between the Association and Blind Veterans UK called Project Gemini.

     

    Project Gemini enables Blind Veterans UK and the BVA to share experiences and knowledge about matters such as blind rehabilitation and readjustment training, vision research and adaptive technology for the blind. This year, two blind veterans from South Africa’s St. Dunstan’s Association have also joined the project.

     

    The veterans will engage in adaptive technology activities and sports for the blind. As well as trying paddle boarding with Colwyn Bay Watersports, the group have also visited nearby historic sites such as Caernarfon Castle. They have also experienced driving hovercrafts and buggies and tackled the fastest zip wire in the world.

    Project Gemini paddle boarding

    Project Gemini paddle boarding

     

    Major Tom Zampieri (Ret.), a legally blind veteran himself, leads the BVA group. He says: “This week is so important because the three groups of veterans are able to share helpful hints about coping with blindness and the “war stories” that are part of their personal adjustment to blindness and subsequent rehabilitation.

    Major Tom Zampieri (Ret.)

    Major Tom Zampieri (Ret.)

     

    “This year’s exchange is particularly special as the group are visiting Wales for the first time and staying at the Blind Veterans UK rehabilitation and training centre in Llandudno.”

     

    British blind veteran Colin Williamson says: “Blind Veterans UK is very proud to welcome comrades from around the world to Wales.

     

    “This week has been great fun but what it’s really about is ex-Service men and women from different countries coming together to share experiences and support each other.”

     

    To find out more about the free support our charity gives to blind and vision impaired veterans please visit: blindveterans.org.uk

    Blind veteran Mark Abel returns from Invictus Games and now plans a skydive to raise money for charity

    Blind veteran and swimmer Mark Abel is back from representing the UK in the Invictus Games, where he not only competed against other veterans he also met Prince Harry.

    Mark meeting Prince Harry

    Mark meeting Prince Harry

     

    Although Mark didn’t win a medal in this year’s heats he said he was able to push himself and achieve two personal bests: the 100m freestyle and the 50m backstroke, the latter of which he knocked seven seconds off his previous best time.

    Mark training in the pool

    Mark training in the pool

    He said “It was an absolutely fabulous experience, I was high on excitement and determination. I was welling up on a couple of occasions just because of the atmosphere. I would have liked to have come back with medals but it wasn’t about that, it was about getting out there and doing what you do best and I will be signing up to try and go again next year. I’m already back in the pool, training.

    I AM INVICTUS!

    I AM INVICTUS!

     

    “It was great to meet Prince Harry. He appeared when we were watching the volleyball and we chatted about where I came from. He is such a down to Earth and great guy.”

     

    The 49-year-old former army corporal was forced to give up a career as a healthcare assistant after losing his sight overnight. He suffers from Multiple Sclerosis which triggered a Bilateral Optic Neuritis attack which led to him becoming blind.

     

    After a year out recovering and coming to terms with the effects of the illness, Mark received help from his family and Blind Veterans UK, and returned to the Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust where he joined the team at the Elgar Unit as an administration support worker to the inpatient pathway/bed manager.

     

    He has now decided that his next challenge is a skydive on June 26 which he is doing to try and raise £2,000 for our charity.

     

    “I have skydived once before for Acorns Children’s Hospital but I had sight then so this will be a completely different experience. I am looking forward to it, although many have questioned why I would want to jump out of a perfectly serviceable plane.”

     

    If you would like to support Mark, visit his Just Giving page. https://www.justgiving.com/Mark-Abel.

    7 year old Dion donates his hair and raises money for charity

    7 year old Dion Bower undertook a charity hair chop this week – and it was his first ever haircut. With the help of Pauline Evans, Care Manager at our Llandudno Centre Dion had his first ever hair cut when she chopped his long tresses off.

    Dion before the haircut

    Dion before the haircut

    Dion’s new bob was then transformed by Antonia at STYLE by Chantelle (Colwyn Bay). Dion, whose Grandmother Margaret Parry works on the Care Team at the centre – decided to snip off his beautiful long locks to raise funds for Blind Veterans UK’s Llandudno Centre.
    Dion is also no stranger to our charity and has visited the Blind Veterans UK centre in Llandudno with his Grandmother many times. He is always in awe of all the things our blind veterans can do despite their sight loss and felt inspired to take on a challenge himself. He’s even tried on simi specs to learn more about how hard it can be when you lose your sight.

    Dion Long Hair gone

    Dion after his pony was cut off

    Lucie, Dion’s mum was worried about him having his hair cut as it was such a big part of him but no she loves his new look and is very proud of him for making the decision to do it for Blind Veterans UK.

    Antonia tidies the chop
    Dion has said he is really pleased with his new haircut. As well as raising money for our charity his ponytail is also being sent off to make wigs for cancer patients.

    The end result!

    The end result!

     

    What an incredible young man! To donate and help him reach his target visit: https://www.justgiving.com/Lucie-Bowers

    The oldest with the newest technology

    The person who said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks has clearly never visited Blind Veterans UK and would certainly would have eaten their words if they had attended our recent Science and Technology week. With an average age of 75 the group Skyped, emailed, held discussions on the benefit of Windows 10 and learned about Orcam’s, Digital assistants and smart TV’s.

     

    Technology is continually advancing and in the world of vision impairment (VI) and this is no exception.  As many eye conditions are age related, by default the elderly are the ones experiencing cutting edge technologies.  Here are our veterans Richard Rawlinson Roy Casterton and Jane Collins  are testing out the Orcam.

    Jo sinkins pic

    Jo Sinkins (ROVI) introducing the Orcam to Computer club member Richard Rawlinson

     

    Blind veteran Mark Threadgold sharing his experiences of the Orcam with Computer Club member Jane Collins

    Blind veteran Mark Threadgold sharing his experiences of the Orcam with Computer Club member Jane Collins

     

    roy casterson

    Roy Casterton testing out the Orcam

    Our Computer and Science Week members were welcomed to join a talk from the RNIB given by John Paton, Digital Advocacy Executive of the Solutions, Strategy and Planning Division.

    RNIB

     

    During the talk they learned about the Echo system from Amazon and Smart TV’s. The Echo system from Amazon uses a digital assistant called Alexa.  It requires speech only interaction meaning the user will talk to it, similar to Windows Cortana.  For example you could ask Alexa to start up your Hi-Fi system and play music from the Amazon prime music library.  Another key area that the RNIB are working on is smart TV’s so that the programming interface is far more VI friendly for example in using high contrast and including audio output.

    Of course it’s one thing to learn through listening but far more fun learning through doing, as our treasure hunt teams found out.  With Mark Kingston providing clues, hints and tips via Skype, teams of 4 roamed round the building in pursuit of treasure.

    Quizmaster Mark Kingston on a Skype call confirming answers and giving out the next clue

    Quizmaster Mark Kingston on a Skype call confirming answers and giving out the next clue

     

    The winning team returning triumphant from the treasure hunt

    The winning team returning triumphant from the treasure hunt

     

    And finally a few statistics, because it’s not just on Technology Week that our members are learning new technologies.  In the last 6 months we have issued 143 Synapptic devices meaning that’s 140 members who are Skyping , emailing , listening to digital radio and YouTube, and accessing a whole host of  line services . Keeping in touch with friends and family locally, across the country and across the world.  Living life beyond sight loss, to the full.

    To find out more about how we support blind and vision-impaired veterans visit blindveterans.org.uk.

    Blind veteran Eric Radford held a fundraising event to celebrate his 95th birthday

    Happy Birthday to RAF blind veteran Eric Radford!

    Eric recently celebrated a milestone – his 95th birthday. He decided to mark the occasion by holding a fundraiser for Blind Veterans UK to say thank you for the support he has received since losing his sight.

    On the day Eric raised £256 and he added to this from his own pocket, sending the total to a massive £500. An incredibly generous gift – we can’t thank him enough.

    Eric Radford

    Eric Radford (left)

    Before he started to receive support from the charity he said “before I joined Blind Veterans UK, I thought a couple more years and I’m done for. Now I want to carry on.”

    Eric joined the RAF in 1941 and started out in Squadron 157 as an armourer. He later moved to a special unit and was stationed in Canada, the Americas and the West Indies.

    On his time in the service Eric says “I was very lucky. The RAF showed me the world. I had never been on a boat or a plane. In those days you didn’t have anything other than possibly a bicycle. The RAF made it possible for me to see more of the world.”

    “One of the most memorable things that happened during my service was when a 25 pound bomb dropped on my shoulder but it was nothing out of the ordinary, really.”

    Eric says: “Blind Veterans UK have helped me enormously. At my home where a volunteer helps me with my post and groceries and at the Llandudno centre. I’m able to do some gardening but most of all painting again.”

    In 1982 Eric started to lose his vision and was later diagnosed with Age Related Macular Degeneration (ARMD). He said his family and friends were supportive, helping him whenever he needed.

    He says “I had heard of Blind Veterans UK, but I thought it was for totally blind service people. I never thought of joining or that they would be able to help me. Another fellow, who had been to one of the centres, told me what Blind Veterans UK does and told me to look into it. I’m so glad I did. They have done so much for me. I’ve been to Llandudno centre three times now and I’m very excited to go again this May.”

    If you know someone like Eric who could benefit from our free support, get in touch today by visiting noonealone.org.uk.

    Blind veteran and his wife celebrate 59 years together

    Today 98 year old blind veteran Leonard and his wife Dorothy are celebrating 59 years together. When they both met, they clicked straight away. They bonded about their mutual love of travel (especially Italy, where Leonard had served in the war) and they tied the knot in 1957.

     

    The couple recently attended a reunion lunch – this is a special lunch organised by Blind Veterans UK and set up for blind veterans, as a way to for them to come together and talk about their experiences.

     

    Dorothy was thrilled to win flowers in the raffle at the end of the afternoon and said: “They will be used as a celebration for our wedding anniversary tomorrow, I will be putting them in pride of place at home. We are still so close after 59 years.”

     

    Dot and Leonard Wright

    Dot and Leonard Wright

     

    Before losing his sight, Leonard served in the Second World War in France and also Egypt, Italy and India. After the war he returned to working at Pirelli and later went to work as an accountant until he retired.

     

    He has been supported by Blind Veterans UK since 2014 when he was diagnosed with age related macular degeneration, which left him blind. He has visited our centre for basic life skills training and has even learnt to touch type so he can continue his computer skills at home.

     

    If you know a blind or vision impaired veteran, refer them today for our free support. It doesn’t matter how or when they lost their sight. Visit noonealone.org.uk or call 0800 389 7979.

    Veteran’s widow receives award from Blind Veterans UK in recognition of her life-changing services to our charity

    Widow of blind veteran, Irene Howarth gets a national community Founder’s Day award for her life changing work with blind veterans.

    Irene received her award at the charity’s rehabilitation and training centre in Brighton last week. She was awarded for her outstanding contributions to the charity. Most of her time is given to volunteering, she organises regular lunch clubs for blind veterans in multiple locations, works as a home visitor for two veterans and represents the charity on national veteran’s days.

    Irene Howarth

    Irene Howarth

    Irene’s husband Anthony was supported by the charity for five years. After he passed away, she started to volunteer for the charity and has made an enormous impact on all the veterans she has helped since.

    “It is such a pleasure to help and the veterans are always so grateful of the support. Many of them have been able to strike up great friendships because of the clubs and that is why I love to help organise them. I also couldn’t do it without Grace Moles who helps me with all of the admin involved in setting up these events.” Irene told us.

    About the charity’s support to her husband she said: “Blind Veterans UK has made such a huge impact on my husband, at first he was hesitant to go along. After his first visit to the centre, we could see a real change in him, he was such a different person and came home with a renewed sense of himself. He made lots of friends at the centre and afterwards he met up with a few of them regularly. Blind Veterans UK even came and installed a ramp in the garden so he could go out into the garden.

    We’ve both attended respite weeks in Brighton and Llandudno and they really look after you. It was great to get some time off from my full time caring responsibilities.”

    “I really am truly grateful to everyone who has nominated me for this award, especially my Welfare Officer Amanda.”

    Irene is already planning her next lunch club and even plans to run a stall on Armed Forces Day in Plymouth with her 12 year old grandson.

    Find out more about the work we do to support blind and vision impaired veterans and refer someone you know today for our free lifelong support.

    Blind veterans go ….Pace Sticking!

    A team of three blind veterans are set to make history as they attempt to become the first civilian team to qualify for the Pace Sticking World Championships.

    pace sticking 1

    Blind Veterans UK is entering a team that will be led by the sighted Drum Major Tony Taylor and qualification will take place at Wellington Barracks on 18 May.

    The blind veterans completing the team are Kevin Alderton, Billy Baxter and Steve Birkin.

    When talking about how the idea for the team emerged Kevin said:

    “It came about through a conversation with a fellow blind veteran. We were just saying about some of the things we missed since we left, and one of the things was actually drill.”

    The art of pace sticking involves keeping perfect time, coordination and dressing to keep in a straight line. Skills that are hard enough to master for serving soldiers but made particularly challenging if you are blind or vision-impaired.

    pace 2

    Drum Major Tony Taylor has faced new challenges in training blind veterans and had to adapt his methods:

    “I’ve had to rethink the way I’m teaching them, and try to explain and move their hands into the correct position.”

    The team have had regular training sessions to prepare for May’s qualifying competition which could see them go through to compete at the World Championships held at Sandhurst later in June.

    You can watch a recent Forces TV report about the team at http://forces.tv/45511058

    Good luck to the Blind Veterans UK Pace Sticking Team!

    Blind WW2 veteran learns how to use Skype at the age of 95!

    95 year old blind veteran Bob Feltham has been learning to Skype for the first time since he lost his sight.

     

    Bob served in the RAF during the Second World War and now suffers from advanced untreatable age-related macular degeneration, an eye condition that has robbed him of most of his sight.

    Bob Feltham

     

    Since turning 90 he’s been learning how to get to grips with the computer and has learnt most of his skills at our training and rehabilitation centre in Sheffield.  He said “Gaye my IT Instructor has been absolutely marvellous, just perfect. I now feel confident using the computer and use its lots at home.”

     

    As well as the training, Blind Veterans UK has also provided him with a special magnifier and keyboard to help him navigate the keys and access parts of the screen.

    Bob feltham low res 1

    Ever since, he’s been dazzling us with his new skills and has even been teaching himself some computer skills at home. Now Bob, an active Facebook user, chats to friends, family and keeps in touch with other blind veterans he has met during his stay at our Sheffield Centre.

    Bob feltham low res 2

    Bob was in the RAF during the Second World War, he served in Egypt and in the UK. He said “I don’t like talking about it much but feel lucky coming out of the war alive and in one piece. The only thing it shot was my nerves.”

     

    After the war he held a number of jobs including, snow shovelling, coke ovens, he worked in the coal mine for 10 years and in a ball bearing factory for 20 years before he finally retired. Bob is a widower and has two lovely sons and a daughter.

     

    Bob said “Coming the centre is perfect, I couldn’t ask for anything better. Everyone here is in the same boat and the staff can’t do enough for you. When I visit the centre I just feel like we are one big family.”

     

    Give someone you know the gift of independence. Refer a blind or vision impaired veteran for our free support. Visit noonealone.org.uk or call 0800 389 7979.

    Brighton WWII blind veteran receives medal for helping liberate France from the Nazis

    95-year old Second World War blind veteran from Brighton who served on D-Day plus 4 receives France’s highest honour, Legion d’honneur 70 years after the event.

    James Hartley (known as Jim) said “I’m very proud of the medal and I never expected it from the French Government – especially as it has been so long since the event. I’m so proud. I’ve put it pride of place next to my other war medals.”

    Jim Hartley

    Jim enlisted at the age of 19 and served in the 75th Anti-tank regiment, 11th Armoured Division. He was stationed around the north of England as a dispatch rider, and then drove Bren gun carriers.

    Jim moved south and was stationed in Brighton whilst waiting to go across on D-Day. Four days later he landed in Normandy on Sword Beach.

    He continued through Normandy, France, Belgium, Holland and Germany and ended his service at Flensberg on the Baltic Coast. Towards the end of his service he injured his wrist and was in hospital in Bonn, before being flown home where he underwent occupational therapy for a year before being discharged.

    Jim continued driving for a living and was devastated when he had to give it up. He began to lose his sight to age related macular degeneration. He says “I had to sell my car, which was really hard for me as driving had been my life’s career and I took my wife on many great driving holidays.”

    Jim has received help and support from Blind Veterans UK since 2007. He lost his sight due to Age-Related Macular Degeneration (ARMD), a leading cause of blindness and vision-impairment in older people.

    Jim was previously helped by his sister-in-law who lived nearby helped him. But as his physical health deteriorated he was no longer able to support himself and Jim became a permanent resident at the Blind Veterans UK Brighton Centre at Ovingdean.

    He says “Blind Veterans UK has changed my life. I couldn’t ask for a better place. There is always so much on, plenty of activities so I never get bored and they look after me so much. I feel lucky.”

    If you would like to read more about Jim laying the wreath at Remembrance in 2014 click here.

    To find out how we can help someone you know visit: www.blindveterans.org.uk.