A blind veteran from Cumbria who has received vital support from Blind Veterans UK, the national charity for vision-impaired ex-Service men and women, has met The Countess of Wessex, who this year became the charity’s Patron.
Darren Blanks, 30 and from Egremont, met Her Royal Highness at the charity’s show garden at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. The garden, titled ‘It’s all about community’, was one of three show gardens to receive a prestigious gold medal.
Darren served in the King’s Royal Hussars from 2003, joining up two months before the invasion of Iraq. He completed two tours when he was 18 and 20 years old.
Unfortunately for Darren, after leaving the Army, he was diagnosed with Leber’s optical neuropathy, a rare genetic disease that gradually robbed him of his sight.
After additional tests, it was revealed that he also had a benign brain tumour. An operation to remove the tumour sadly resulted in him losing the hearing in his left ear. Darren says: “I was left with a small crack in my skull, then, just weeks later I was in hospital again, this time with meningitis.
“The meningitis then came back for a second time which resulted in me spending eight days in a coma in the intensive care unit in Newcastle hospital. It was an incredibly tough time. I had to leave two jobs, at both Iceland and as a postman, and was in hospital for four months as a result of the brain tumour.”
Darren has been receiving the free lifelong support offered by Blind Veterans UK since 2011. He attributes the charity with his being able to achieve his life and fitness goals. He explains: “Blind Veterans UK has been fantastic. By providing guides and general training support, they’ve helped me regain my confidence. Since losing my sight they’ve enabled me to complete both the London Marathon and Brighton Half Marathons. I’m also running the Cardiff Half Marathon later this year. I’ve also completed three 100km walks with the charity, as well as the Great Cumbrian Run and a stretch of Hadrian’s Wall.”
Darren was also the Olympic torchbearer for Egremont ahead of the 2012 London Games.
He says: “Blind Veterans UK has given me the independence and confidence to carry on with life after sight loss. I’ve always wanted to run the London Marathon and they’ve helped me with that, and last year I went skiing for the first time, too.”
Darren, a keen gardener, was excited to visit the charity’s gold medal-winning garden. He says: “I started with my grandfather when I was younger and have just never stopped. Despite my sight loss, I’m still able to grow a lot of the fruit and vegetables that we eat at home.”
Darren and The Countess of Wessex were attending the Blind Veterans UK ‘It’s all about community’ garden at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show with other blind veterans supported by the charity when the show opened on July 3.
The garden has been designed by celebrated designers Andrew Fisher Tomlin & Dan Bowyer and is one of the largest show gardens at Hampton Court this year.
Blind Veterans UK supports veterans regardless of when they served or how they lost their sight. The Blind Veterans UK community has grown and the charity now supports more than 4,500 veterans, more than ever before in its history.
However, the charity estimates that there are up to 55,000 blind veterans that would be eligible to access its specialist support but are not currently aware of it.
Chief Executive of Blind Veterans UK, Major General (Rtd) Nick Caplin CB, said: “This garden, at the prestigious RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, is a fantastic opportunity to reach out to the thousands of blind veterans out there who don’t know they’re entitled to our support.
“Blind Veterans UK has set an ambitious target to double the number of veterans we support in the next five years. This garden represents the community of blind veterans that we hope to grow. As the average age of the veterans we support is rising, we have now extended our services to provide more practical and emotional support closer to our beneficiary’s own communities.
“If you, or someone you know, served in the Armed Forces, including National Service, and is now battling severe sight loss then please do get in touch with us.”
Blind Veterans UK was founded in 1915 and the charity’s initial purpose was to help and support soldiers blinded in the First World War. But the organisation has gone on to support more than 35,000 blind veterans and their families, spanning WWII to recent conflicts including Iraq and Afghanistan.
For more than a century, the charity has been providing vital free training, rehabilitation, equipment and emotional support to blind and vision-impaired veterans no matter when they served or how they lost their sight. If you, or someone you know, served in the Armed Forces, including National Service, and is now battling severe sight loss, find out how Blind Veterans UK could help by calling 0800 389 7979 or visiting blindveterans.org.uk/noonealone.
For all media enquiries please contact: Felix Arbenz-Caines, PR Assistant, Blind Veterans UK, 12 – 14 Harcourt Street, London, W1H 4HD, E: firstname.lastname@example.org, T: 020 7616 7941
Notes to Editor
Blind Veterans UK
Blind Veterans UK is a national charity that believes that no-one who has served our country should have to battle blindness alone. Founded in 1915, the charity provides blind and vision impaired ex-Service men and women with lifelong support including welfare support, rehabilitation, training, residential and respite care.