As a member of Blind Veterans UK staff I am lucky enough to be able to take part in one of the introduction weeks with new members of the charity in Brighton. For the beginning of this week I’ll be finding out what it’s like to become a new member of the charity.
For all new members of Blind Veterans UK the introduction week is one of the first steps to living a life beyond sight loss. It can be a daunting prospect for many but from the very start there was lots of enthusiasm about the weeks activities.
On entering the ballroom at the 75 year old Brighton centre for the first time I think we all felt a little trepidation about the days ahead, but were eager to gain knowledge and find out more information! The group was a mix of younger and older blind veterans, some sitting with their spouses, friends or relatives; and some had come alone. After starting to chat with a couple of the members I began to realise how much they had been looking forward to the week, and actually how suddenly some had come to lose their sight.
The start to the day involved a welcome speech by Sports and Recreation manager Louise Timms who told us about the activities happening throughout the day. Teas and coffees were organised by Tania, who is the introduction week coordinator and does a great job at organising the group and keeping them on track for the packed schedule of activities and talks.
Following on from the introduction talk, our group was split in two, with each group going to participate in different activities. To start with, I took part in the IT talk from IT Instructor Amandine. We were told the benefits of IT training such as touch typing, being able to communicate with family through Skype or have emails read out loud. Amandine also explained the potential downsides to IT. I began to understand the struggles some members face when trying to use IT equipment with a vision impairment and how beneficial training can be to some members who have a need for a computer. After this, Amandine asked individuals within the group if they would like to take part in a one to one session with her to speak more about their requirements for IT training.
Ater a tea and coffee break, we went our separate ways again and I joined the Sports and Recreation talk and tour. Even at this early stage in the week, it was noticeable that some members had opened their eyes to new possibilities and activities that they may never have considered before. The high point of the tour was the swimming pool, which the group were keen to have a go in.
At 12pm we went for lunch, with the group of blind veterans and their carers enjoying scampi and chips. Following on from this many of the group soaked up the sunshine in the garden.
After lunch we were keen to have a go at the introduction to bowls. Its not an obvious sport for the vision impaired but after a couple of bowls the trick was how to hold the bowl rather than the aim. After a short practice, we were divided into two teams and competed against each other, but unfortunately for Des the guide dog, his urge to chase the bowls got all too much so he had to be taken out of the sports hall by his owner. The final result saw the yellow team victorious, with the winning bowl being bowled by a complete beginner!
At 3pm we settled down for coffee and tea in the lounge. It was already clear to me that many members have opened up and had come out of their shells. When chatting to the members it was positive to hear that they felt joining Blind Veterans UK was step in the right direction to a life beyond their sight loss. One gentleman in particular who had served in the Royal Navy told me he would try anything! He was extremely keen to get back into swimming and woodwork, and I felt assured that he was in the place to rekindle his love for his hobbies!
Between them, the group spans half a century in age and their lifetime of experience is a real inspiration to a member of staff like me. It’s fantastic to see where the money you help to raise goes and the experience a member goes through when they join the charity.
The overall process to join Blind Veterans Uk seems relatively quick and simple from the feedback I received. One member of the group had previously applied to join the charity, yet he only suffered with sight problems in one eye. He kept in touch with staff at Blind Veterans Uk and when his sight disappeared suddenly in his left eye he was then eligible for free help and support.
If you know of someone thinking of completing the application form to join Blind Veterans Uk, or if you know a veteran suffering with sight loss, please get in touch today and start the process of joining. For more information visit www.noonealone.org.uk.
Day two of the Blind Veterans Uk introduction week follows tomorrow.