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    100 years of famous faces


    Johnny Ball visits the Blind Veterans UK Brighton centre in 2014.

    Last week, TV presenter Johnny Ball visited Blind Veterans UK to officially open our refurbished Brighton centre. Johnny is just the latest celebrity to visit the charity since its foundation in 1915.

    Among our early famous visitors was the legendary army officer Lord Kitchener (the star of the iconic 1914 ‘Your country needs you’ recruitment ads). Kitchener visited St Dunstan’s Lodge in the charity’s early months and met some of our first blind veterans. Kitchener was followed by a fellow dignitary, explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, who visited St Dunstan’s Lodge and gave a talk to our first blind veterans in 1917.

    St Dunstan’s Lodge played host to another 20th century icon in 1920, when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle paid a visit to the centre to experience our work first hand. Elementary, my dear blind veterans…

    Olympic athlete Harold Abrahams, whose story was later immortalised by the 1980s film Chariots of Fire, also visited St Dunstan’s Lodge in 1920. During his visit, he participated in runs with our blind veterans – both blindfolded and sighted!

    Our subsequent move from St Dunstan’s Lodge in 1921 didn’t slow the steady stream of celebrity visitors keen to meet our blind veterans. In the years that followed, the deaf-blind writer and activist Helen Keller visited our base at St John’s Lodge and the comedian and singer George Formby visited our wartime training base in Church Stretton, Shropshire.

    Helen Keller is also on the list of visitors to our Brighton centre. Since its opening in 1938, our oldest centre has paid host to numerous celebrities over the years. These range from comedian Max Miller, boxer Freddie Mills, actress Tessie O’Shea, comic actor Jimmy Edwards, actor/presenter Wilfred Pickles and cricketer Denis Compton to Last of the Summer Wine star Bill Owen, prolific actor Robert Hardy (All Creatures Great and Small), actress Dame Thora Hird and presenter Isla St Clair.

    Recent visitors to the Brighton centre include presenters Eamonn Holmes and Angela Rippon, actor Bernard Cribbins, and wartime sweetheart Dame Vera Lynn. A frequent visitor to the centre, Dame Vera last met our blind veterans in Brighton during her 2009 visit.

    1995 Story writing competition judged byJon Pertwee with 2nd place winner Fred Ripley

    Jon Pertwee visited our London HQ in 1995.

    The list doesn’t stop there, though. In 1995, we played host to the Doctor himself, Doctor Who star Jon Pertwee, when Jon visited our headquarters in London. Presenter Jim Rosenthal also dropped in to our London base to record some material for our blind veterans in 2005. More recently, the Blind Veterans UK Llandudno centre gave the Military Wives Choir a warm Welsh welcome in 2012.

    Alec Newman training at the Llandudno Centre (9)In the past few years, Blind Veterans UK has played host to three actors as part of their research and training for film and TV roles as blind veterans. In 2012, actor Lachlan Nieboer spent time at our Brighton centre in preparation for his role as a World War I blind veteran in series two of Downton Abbey. (Lachlan later ran the London Marathon in aid of Blind Veterans UK.) The following year, actor Alec Newman spent two days at the Blind Veterans UK Llandudno centre researching for his role as an Afghanistan blind veteran in the upcoming film Greyhawk.

    Earlier this year, Blind Veterans UK’s Brighton centre and London HQ played host to another well-known British actor in preparation for his role in an upcoming 2015 film release. Look out for full details of this in the next few weeks!

    Clearly, Blind Veterans UK has enjoyed the support of many celebrities and dignitaries over the past 100 years. Our heartfelt thanks to them all.

    Training for the Conwy Half Marathon, by Jane Duddle

    Jane works at our Llandudno centre as a Rehabilitation Officer for the Visually Impaired (ROVI) and has been inspired by our blind veterans to raise money for Blind Veterans UK. We caught up with her one week before her big run to see what her top training tips are.

    Jane's Conwy Half Just giving photo

    If you’d told me a couple of years ago that I’d get into running, I would never have believed you. Yet somehow I now find myself just a week away from my first ever half-marathon, the Conwy Half.

    I started running in Spring 2013, as a convenient way to keep fit. Having two young children, a full-time job and an hour’s commute to work, running appealed to me, just pulling on some trainers and going out the back door. I live in the foothills of the Clwydian hill range in North Wales and am surrounded by beautiful countryside and I work in Llandudno, with a lovely view of the sea. Since I started running, I now feel the benefit of where I live and work.

    I generally run about 3 miles on weekday runs, either before work or in my lunch hour, with a longer run at the weekend.   When my friend suggested the Conwy Half, I thought I’d give it a go just to give me a goal to keep training once the summer was over. Since signing up for it, I’ve been increasing my weekend miles by about a mile or two each week, together with my running partner who’s been brilliant. Due to an ankle sprain a few weeks ago, I missed some of my important longer training runs, but fortunately I was able to run 12.5miles last Sunday, so I’ve got some confidence back.

    When I start to struggle I think about our blind veterans who have faced such adversity in the past, be it in service or coping with sight loss. It then makes my struggle seem so much less. Our veterans constantly inspire me and as I run I often think about the people I’ve worked with. I’m keen to help raise money for Blind Veterans UK as I see everyday what a difference the charity makes, in so many different ways.

    My best advice to anyone thinking of starting running is…

    • Do it!
    • Start small, with just a mile, then build up gradually.
    • Find a friend to run with – you will encourage, support and motivate each other.
    • Keep setting yourself new goals – consider signing up for a 5k race initially.
    • After two ankle sprains this year, I am now a convert to running with a phone so you can call for help any time if anything does go wrong
    • Be religious about stretching out after every run
    • Run up hills to build muscle & improve aerobic fitness level – you eventually enjoy hills!
    • Try yoga – my secret weapon! It has helped me build muscle strength and balance. Weight training or pilates are other options. Yoga though is more ‘rounded’ – it helps focus your breathing and mind too. I can’t recommend it enough!

    Most of all enjoy running! Whatever your level, just getting out there makes you feel alive.

    If you would like to support Jane please visit her just giving page: https://www.justgiving.com/janesconwyrun/.

    If you would like to complete your own challenge and fundraise for Blind Veterans UK, we have places for many different events, visit our events calendar to find out what’s happening near you.

    Celebrating 100 years of service

    Next year, 100 Logo FinalBlind Veterans UK will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of our charity’s foundation in 1915 – and marking 100 years of proud service.

    That’s 100 years of providing life-changing support and help to blind and vision-impaired ex -Service men and women – from the very first blind veterans of World War I right through to the blind veterans of modern conflicts, including Iraq and Afghanistan…

    That’s also 100 years of pioneering fundraising and communications activities and campaigns, from our founder Sir Arthur Pearson’s original ‘Victory over blindness’ advertising campaign right through to our ‘No One Alone’ campaign today…

    And, of course, that’s 100 years of inspiring stories, charting the extraordinary accomplishments of our inspirational blind veterans, from the likes of Ian Fraser, Angus Buchanan and Robert Middlemiss right through to Ray Hazan, Billy Baxter and Bob Early today.

    In short, we have a lot to celebrate!

    And celebrate we will, with a host of activities spanning the course of 2015.

    The approach of our centenary year will be heralded by the release of our first centenary products. These will range from a Blind Veterans UK centenary badge and tie to our centenary beer – what better way to toast us reaching this monumental achievement?

    We also have a year-long programme of celebratory activities in the works for 2015, which we’ll be unveiling in the months ahead. These will range from a look at historical objects from our archive and commemorative events at sites with historical links to us, to a Service of Thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey, a Buckingham Palace Garden Party and our oral history project 100 Voices, 100 Lives.

    We won’t just be looking back during Blind Veterans UK’s centenary year, though. We want our centenary celebrations to help us continue to grow the number of blind veterans we are helping, and also help us grow awareness and support of the charity.

    We want our centenary to celebrate our first 100 years of service and propel us into our next 100 years of service.

    Stay tuned to the Blind Veterans UK blog, website and social media channels, for regular updates on our centenary.

    Wine tasting at Blind Veterans UK

    Did you know that the reason a wine glass generally curves in at the top is to keep the aroma of the drink inside the glass rather than ‘wasting it’ in the air?


    Many of our blind veterans have expressed a keen interest in wine and take part in wine tasting events as it is a hobby that relies heavily on the senses of taste and spell to enjoys the flavours and really appreciate a good bottle of wine. We’ve been speaking to some of our blind veterans and their families at our Brighton centre to find out about their favourite wines and tips for choosing a good bottle and we’ve learnt some pretty cool facts.


    It’s often recommended that you have a glass of red with red meats and white for fish and white meat, but do you know where the colour from the wine comes from? Most people assume the grapes but in general the juice from grapes is clear, the colour actually comes from the skins. White wine is often made without the skins at all and when making rose wine the skins are removed half way through to make the pink colour. We spoke to 60 year old blind veteran Alan who said that he likes both red and white wine depending on his meal but he prefers wines from Spain and Chile.


    Alan with a bottle of white


    74 year old blind veteran Gerry said he enjoys a full bodied glass of red and socialising at the bar in our Brighton centre with Friends. A full bodied wine has higher tannin content and gives the wine a richer thicker taste. In the evening when the bar is open the lounge becomes a social hub and a great environment for our veterans to meet each other and chat before dinner. We learnt that vintage full bodied reds are often decanted if the wine has developed a layer of sediment but that more modern reds and even full bodied whites are decanted as they can sometimes have a funny smell due to the lack of oxygen in the wine.


    Gerry with a bottle of red


    Joan, an 87 year old active fundraiser for Blind Veterans UK and the organiser of the much talked about Bowls championship, said she likes to have a glass of wine with her evening meal. Her favourite is a dry white but she knows all about the best of each variety as she will regularly choose bottles of wine as prizes at her raffles.


    Joan with a bottle of white


    Do you have any tips for choosing a good bottle? We would love to hear from you. If you work for majestic wine, you can ensure that no blind veteran battles sight loss alone by voting for Blind Veterans UK to be charity partner of the year 2015.


    To find out more about the support and training we provide for blind veterans visit http://www.blindveterans.org.uk/how-we-help/

    Amateur Radio week at our Brighton centre. By blind veteran Ray Hazan

    Blind Veterans UK’s amateur radio club regularly meet up at our Brighton and Llandudno centres to connect with fellow radio amateurs across the globe using a variety of different communication channels. We got in touch with blind veteran Ray Hazan, a club regular, to find out how the week went at our Brighton centre recently.


    QSL Manager Edna and Ray on the air


    ““This is MX0SBV calling CQ and by for a call”. In plain English, means “this is the club station of Blind Veterans UK looking for any other station to respond.” This call could be heard emanating from the radio shack for the week. The response could come from a fellow Radio amateur 500 yards away or from the other side of the world!
    I took up the hobby as you could ‘travel’ the world without leaving your house. Since everyone is ‘blind’ on the end of a microphone, the visually impaired is at no disadvantage.
    To get involved, you need a Radio Amateur licence and must pass an exam on basic radio procedure. To begin transmitting on low power requires a mere weekend of preparation before attempting the exam at the lowest level.


    The equipment, a transceiver, microphone, power supply and aerial can be borrowed from the RAIBC (radio amateur invalid and blind club) and transceivers have become very ‘blind friendly’ these days. The inclusion of an optional speech chip within the radio set gives the ‘white stick’ operator access to meters and other vital information formerly available only with the help of special additional items.
    Whilst communication via the computer means little interference or disruption, talking via the air-waves is something magic by comparison. The hobby has much to offer in its variety – trying to contact as many countries as possible, striving to contact every area within the UK; constructing your own radio; experimenting with aerials; moon bouncing signals; operating a safety net; communicating and keeping up languages and Morse code, is to name some of the various challenges.


    The Blind Veterans UK Amateur Radio Society was formed in the mid 1970’s and meets for the duration of a week at a time in our Brighton and Llandudno centres. The society fulfils an important role in spreading the word about the charity’s existence and work.”


    To find out more about how we support ex-Service men and women with sight loss please visit our website: www.blindveterans.org.uk

    Liverpool fundraiser took on a mile-long zip wire for Blind Veterans UK

    A prolific fundraiser from Liverpool has completed his biggest challenge yet when he took on the Northern Hemisphere’s longest zip wire to raise money for blind military veterans.

    peter albert

    Peter Albert, 74 from Thornton, took on the exhilarating ride of the mile-long Zip World Velocity in Bethesda, North Wales, to raise money for Blind Veterans UK on Sunday 28 September.

    Peter reached speeds of up to 100mph as he rushed across the wire, which is a mile long and suspends the rider 500ft above the ground.

    A consummate fundraiser, Peter has already raised £11,000 for the charity which included £3,500 for undertaking a nine day, 130 mile sponsored kayak along the Thames.

    Peter says: “I first heard of Blind Veterans UK a few years ago through my local Lions club. One of the blind veterans supported by the charity came to speak at our convention and it was so moving that I decided I had to raise £1,000 for Blind Veterans UK.

    “What inspired me most of all was the spirit of the chaps Blind Veterans UK supports. Some of them have not just overcome their sight loss, but gone on to do incredible challenges – from climbing Snowdonia to setting world records.

    “It is one of the very best causes I could imagine raising funds for. Over the years, I’ve just set myself bigger challenges – when I raised £1,000, I wanted to raise £5,000, then £10,000.”

    Three years ago, Peter set himself the challenge of kayaking solo from Lechlade, near Swindon, to Teddington Lock, just outside London. Peter says: “It was an absolutely brilliant experience – I would have liked to kayak further, but I had to stop before the Thames gets tidal in London.”

    Most recenly Peter has taken to the skies on the Zip World Velocity to raise money for Blind Veterans UK. Before he took on the challenge he said: “I’m quite uneasy with heights, so this is going to be very challenging psychologically – but that’s why it’s such a good idea.

    “I’m very keen to do daft things to raise money and if that means doing a mile-long zip wire, that’s what I’ll do. I won’t just be fundraising for Blind Veterans UK, I’ll be facing my fears in the process.”

    To support Peter on his zip wire challenge, please visit www.justgiving.com/peteralbert. For more information about Blind Veterans UK’s work, please visit www.blindveterans.org.uk.

    Andy Fallons’ photographic project for Blind Veterans UK

    Andy Fallon, a commercial portrait photographer and Art Director based in London, has been working on a photographic and audio collaboration at our Brighton Centre.

    With over 15 years of photography experience he has worked for The Sunday Times, The guardian and the Telegraph but he says he is “motivated to explore a style of portrait that enables a blind or partial sighted individual to share the experience of a portrait session.”

    He has decided to work on this unique project to produce colour light paintings  as many of our blind or partially sighted veterans have been photographed before but they are not able to see the final images. Andy says “my aim was to find a way that the veterans could visualise the final image through the techniques used to capture the light.”

    Many of the veterans are partially sighted but there are also some individuals that are completely blind, so before anything was set up, Andy spoke to them that he could understand their experience of light. He found that those who are completely blind have no sense of light and dark, to address this he used daylight heat lamps that provide a sensation of warmth as light is guided around the face so that the veterans could feel the light.

    The light he has chosen to use is also soft enough as not to produce discomfort to those with partial sight. They leave trace patterns on the photographic image so the viewer can also understand the veterans experience of the heat and light.

    Each portrait is taken in complete darkness with only the heat lamps illuminating the subject to expose the photograph.

    Andy plans to display the images with an audio accompaniment where each veteran will talk about their military service, losing their sight and the experience they have had with light portraits.

    When asked what he would like the project would achieve, Andy said “I hope that the project will draw attention to the positive work of Blind Veterans UK and the incredible work it does to enable a fuller life for the veterans. The intention is to include a complete age range of the veterans to show the ongoing work the charity is involved with.”

    Andy has said that it is important to him that the portraits produced are a positive reflection of Blind Veterans UK so he stayed away from producing any gritty black and white images.

    If you would like to find out more about how we help blind veterans please visit our website, if you would like to keep up-to-date with Andy’s work please visit his website.

    Artwave exhibition. By Jonathan Jones

    We hosted an Artwave exhibition at our Brighton centre’s chapel for three weekends as part of the 2014 Artwave Festival. The event was a huge success and we caught up with Jonathan Jones who visited to hear his thoughts.

    “Frank has worn away the table at which he spends every morning working on his rocking horses.”
    This is the phrase that will last with me from my visit to the Blind Veterans UK Arts and Crafts exhibition. Every member of staff I spoke to on the day were captivated with Frank Tinsley and his rocking horses. Volunteers, full-time and part-time staff were enamored with the skill and workmanship that went into creating his amazing pieces.


    The exhibition at the Blind Veterans UK centre chapel was heart-warming, as well as showing a range of abilities that make Blind Veterans UK such a worthwhile charity.


    Frank Tinsley, a 93 year old war veteran, had a number of rocking horses on display which captured the imagination of everyone at the exhibition. Speaking to Kirsty Franks, a volunteer, she said “I like the pink one the most because it has been completed to such a high standard. It’s amazing to think that he’s completely blind but can make such perfect rocking horses.”


    There were a number of toys and games that were fantastic throughout the event including a bright and glittery beetle variation of a game I simply know as ‘The Beetle Game’. It was my favourite and it stood proudly outside the entrance to the exhibition.


    A cute version of the traditional game noughts and crosses, made into hearts and flowers caught my eye as it would have made the perfect gift for my (much younger) little sister, had it not already been bought. My girlfriend wanted to buy the fish mosaic, but that too had been snapped up.


    The exhibition also taught me a number of games that I had never played before, including a variation on chess made of stones that took me a long time to figure out!


    The exhibition didn’t just showcase the work of the veterans, but also gave the public an insight into the difficulties that the veterans face in everyday life. There was a section set up in the corner of the room allowing people to put on glasses that helped to visualize how difficult the veterans find it to work on the toys and games. The glasses varied from complete blindness, to black spots in the centre of the eye that made them frustrating to look through and the whole experience helped to put the difficulties of impaired vision into perspective.


    In the end however, the most pleasing aspect of the exhibition in my opinion was the large board of pictures that sat at the end of the room showing snapshots of everyday life at the Blind Veterans UK Ovingdean centre.


    The exhibition was a wonderful way to present the works of the veterans involved. Congratulations to all the people who made the exhibition such a success, especially:


    Frank Tinsley, Wallace Burnet-Smith, John Taylor, John Nunney, Marjorie Mower, John Gasston, Doug Stepney, Patrick Feeney, Norman Perry, Reg Godwin, Keith Mann, Diana Faulkingham, Arthur Watson, William Wolf, Bob Thirtle, Jean Williams, Eddie O’Brien, Jill Brice, Maurice Bowley, John McCullen, Brian Taylor, Pete Hammond, Bernard Parker, Jim Tribe, Marise Faulkingham, Ted Heaseman and all the staff and veterans at Blind Veterans UK that contributed.


    If you would like to find out about similar events coming up in the future, please visit our events calendar.

    Team Admin’s Fire Walk Challenge

    Admin Girls training!

    We are delighted that Jane Keane, Suzanne Evanson and Annie Gillam – ‘Team Admin’ – are taking on the Blind Veterans UK Fire Walk Challenge on Saturday 8 November at our Llandudno centre.


    The ladies will strip off their office heels and pop socks to brave a 15ft bed of smouldering hot coals to raise funds for Blind Veterans UK’s Llandudno Centre.


    The three ladies work in the Llandudno Centre’s Administration Office, and meet blind veterans on a daily basis and it has been their main motivation to take on the challenge.


    Suzanne says “Our blind veterans face challenges everyday due to their sight loss. We wanted to show how much we appreciate everything they have done for our country.”


    Jane, who has admitted to being absolutely terrified by the thought of undertaking this challenge, is motivated by the knowledge that the funds she and her team raise will help to ensure no ex-Service man or woman will have to battle life beyond sight loss alone.


    Annie says “Our blind veterans are always taking a big step into the unknown. This challenge will be our little step into the unknown – literally!”


    All funds they raise via sponsorship to undertake this challenge will be used to provide rehabilitation, training and emotional support at the Llandudno Centre ensuring Blind Veterans are able to live fulfilling, independent lives. If you would like to support them please visit their just giving page.


    If the girls have inspired you to take on the challenge for yourself, we do still have places available. If you would need to travel to take part we do have special rates agreed with a local hotel and all participants will be given a training seminar before. For more details visit our events page.

    Family weekend at the Llandudno Centre

    We support veterans with sight loss by providing practical help so they can regain their independence but we also support their families too.


    Over the August bank holiday weekend, our Llandudno centre opened its doors to many blind veterans and their families to take part in a whole host of group activities. This gave the perfect opportunity for family bonding and quality time together.


    After arriving on Friday and settling in, the group went to the local bowling alley where those who hadn’t met before had the opportunity to make friends and for all to try their hand at 10 pin bowling with pizza for dinner.


    RibRide on a speed boat


    Saturday was a very busy day where all the families went on a Rib Ride in a very fast speed boat. When asked about his favourite part of the weekend blind veteran Mike Surgenor, who attended the weekend with his wife, 2 children and nana, said “The RibRide speed boat trip was incredible! Travelling across the Menai Straits at speed was one of the highlights of the weekend!”


    Family Horse ride


    The group rested for a fish and chip lunch at the local Newborough Forest area, before the families tried out some horse riding. After horse riding with his wife and two daughters blind veteran Colin Harrison, a left leg amputee, said “To have actually got on top of a horse and ride for an hour was simply amazing, I never would have imagined doing this at all. The horse minders were great and the family and I really enjoyed it!” After a busy day everyone headed off to the local cinema to relax and enjoy a film.


    Indoor climbing


    Sunday was another action packed day with the opportunity for everyone to take part in some exegetic climbing first thing in the morning followed by the opportunity to go Go-Karting which was really popular and plenty of fun for all.




    On the final day everyone headed up to Snowdon Railway. Mike Surgenor’s wife Pam and Nana really enjoyed the trip saying they never expected it to be so wet and cold at the summit, but they still had a really great time with great people!


    Snowden climb


    Overall the weekend was a huge success with nearly everyone trying or seeing something new. If you would like to find out about similar events or fundraising opportunities that are happening near you please visit our events calendar.


    New friends