A blind veteran from Lincolnshire has recently taken part in a “Virtual Introduction Week” organised by Blind Veterans UK as he was unable to attend their training centre to be introduced to the charity in person.
Dennis Niblett, 83 and from Lincoln, along with three other blind veterans joined a virtual meeting every morning which was organised and delivered by Blind Veterans UK staff. Dennis says:
“It was disappointing that I couldn’t attend their Brighton centre for my introduction week last year but I very much enjoyed speaking to the other veterans virtually over the phone and listening to their stories”.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, all veterans who had recently joined the charity would attend one of their training and rehabilitation centres in Brighton or Llandudno for a weeklong introduction. During their stay, they would learn about how the charity could support them and meet other blind veterans. Due to the closure of both the centres to visitors, the charity has designed a course that could be delivered remotely. Mark Hollis, Llandudno Rehabilitation Support Team Leader, says:
“It has been really important that we continue to support new veterans like Dennis, especially during this time of uncertainty and disruption. We want to be able to deliver something that is that is meaningful, social and informative”.
Dennis joined the Royal Artillery in 1956 and served in the Army for 11 years. He started to lose his sight gradually five years ago and has since been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa. Fortunately, he found Blind Veterans UK during a visit to the eye clinic. Dennis says:
“A lady at the eye clinic asked me about my time in service and said that I might be eligible for support from Blind Veterans UK. I got in touch with the charity and started receiving support at the end of 2019”.
Each session during the virtual introduction week, focused on a different topic such as “health and wellbeing” and “support networks”. These addressed the issues the veterans faced and helped provide support and advice from both the staff and the other veterans. Dennis says:
“It was great to speak to veterans who lived in the local area and to speak as a group every day. They were so chatty and friendly – it was difficult to get a word in edgeways at times!”
Blind Veterans UK started the virtual introduction week sessions in September last year and have been providing them for new members up and down the country on a weekly basis. Dennis says:
“I’m looking forward to being able to visit the centre when it’s safe to do. I am also very interested in taking part in a gardening week at the centre and learn some ways in which I can garden with my sight loss. When I left school I became a gardener before I joined the Army. I struggle now to see the plants and flowers up close so it would be great to be able to garden again”.
Nicky Shaw, Blind Veterans UK Director of Operations said:
“Living in isolation, blind veterans need our help right now with daily tasks, such as the shopping, and constant emotional support through this difficult time. So we are temporarily changing our service and mobilising our staff to provide practical, essential support to help the most vulnerable.
“There is so much that we can and must do to support blind veterans to help them maintain physical and emotional wellbeing, and to feel safe, reassured and cared for during this crisis.”
You can keep updated on Blind Veterans UK’s response to Covid-19 at blindveterans.org.uk/coronavirus where you can also find out more about supporting the charity to make this new service possible.