A blind veteran from East Sussex has recently taken part in a “Virtual Introduction Week” organised by Blind Veterans UK as she was unable to attend their Brighton centre earlier this year and be introduced to the charity in person.
Neena Crossingham, 95 and from Hailsham, along with three other blind veterans joined a virtual meeting every morning which was organised and delivered by Blind Veterans UK staff. Neena says:
“I was very disappointed when my introduction week at the Brighton centre was cancelled earlier this year. I was excited to meet people from the charity and other veterans. I didn’t know how I would get on doing it over the phone, but I enjoyed it very much”.
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 Neena, especially during this time of uncertainty and disruption. We want to be able to deliver something that is that is meaningful, social and informative”.
Neena joined the Army in 1942 and served in the Parachute Regiment in as a Shorthand Typist for most of her military career until she was demobbed in 1946. She says: “I was based in Bawbridge in Yorkshire and I really enjoyed my time there. They were so good to us”.
Neena started to lose her sight gradually as she got older and has Age-Related Macular Degeneration (ARMD) and Glaucoma in both eyes. Fortunately, she found Blind Veterans UK after hearing about the charity through her local church. Neena says:
“A man called David who goes to the same church as I do, told me that the charity supported him and that I might be eligible too. I got in touch with the charity and I joined at the beginning of this year”.
“I had heard about the charity before because I grew up in Lewes and when I was younger, we used to go on holidays to Brighton. I remember there being a large building on a hill and my mother telling me to wave to the blind veterans. I know now that that’s the Blind Veterans UK centre. I have such lovely memories of those moments and I would have loved to have been able to go inside for the introduction week”.
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. Neena says: “It was lovely to be part of a group and hear so many fantastic stories from the other veterans. One gentleman spoke about his boxing career and even though I can’t say I have done a lot of that in my lifetime, it was still very interesting!”.
Blind Veterans UK started the virtual introduction week sessions in September and have been providing them for new members up and down the country on a weekly basis. Neena says:
“Since the introduction week, I know now that the charity is always there at just the other end of the phone. Someone is always there and will try and help me. That really does mean so much to me especially during this pandemic.”
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.