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Blind veterans’ snaps brighten up North Wales’ field hospitals

A series of photographs taken by blind veterans from across the UK have been selected by the NHS to adorn the walls of the field hospitals in North Wales during the Covid-19 crisis.

The photos were taken during Blind Veterans UK’s 2019 ‘Photography Week’ at their rehabilitation centre in Llandudno, where the charity brings together blind veterans with an interest in photography for a week of improving their skills.

Andrea Davies, Arts in Health and Wellbeing Coordinator for the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, says:

“The stunning photographs will not only brighten up the hospital but also provide inspiration to patients and staff alike.

“Whether working in, or being admitted into the field hospitals, the environment seems alien and quite frightening, not only because of the sheer scale of the wards, but because we are in the middle of a pandemic which has caused waves of fear and anxiety throughout our communities. Artwork helps to soften the environment and can have an immediate impact on our perception of care, it can personalise the space, removing the `one of a number` feeling. It demonstrates care and human connection, provides distraction, a sense of place and supports way finding.”

58-year-old RAF veteran Nick Barber is one of the blind veterans whose photography is being displayed at the field hospitals. He says:

“I’m super proud to have my photos on display at the hospitals and hope they can put a smile on the faces of the NHS heroes and patients.”

Nick, from Beccles in Suffolk, started his career as a professional golfer, before joining the RAF as a Police Dog Handler, which included deployments to the Falkland Islands and Germany.

It was upon finding out of his imminent tour of the Falkland Islands that Nick bought his first camera with the aim of documenting his time over there. His photography hobby stayed with him until he was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa and Bull’s Eye Maculopathy. Nick describes his condition:

“If you imagine a normal sighted person’s sight is like a beach ball, mine is like a ping pong ball. I’ve got some sight in the centre of my vision but absolutely no peripheral vision.”

It was post-diagnosis, on a shopping trip to Norwich, when Nick decided it was time to rediscover his love of photography.

He says:

“I was walking past a camera shop with my wife and I decided to go in but my wife couldn’t understand why! I bought a digital camera on that day and it’s the best decision I ever made.”

“The support I’ve had from Blind Veterans UK with my photography has been second to none. I’ve been attending photography weeks where I’ve honed my skills and got my confidence up. They built me a photography studio in my back garden and I even had the chance to meet my hero, David Bailey. I can’t thank them enough for helping me rediscover my passion for photography.”

Nadia Wazera, Arts Lead Llandudno for Blind Veterans UK says:

“I’m delighted the photos will help to transform the field hospitals into an environment that’s comfortable for patients during this difficult time. Our beneficiaries were extremely pleased to contribute, their work tells a unique story of strength over adversity and life beyond sight loss so are perfect for a healthcare environment.”

Betsi Cadwaladr is the largest health board in Wales and has set up three field hospitals, providing a total of 1,036 extra beds for the region.

Blind Veterans UK has adapted its service to support its 5,000 beneficiaries, 90% of whom are over 70 and thus being advised by the Government to self-isolate. The National Support Service will help blind veterans through this period of social isolation.

Nicky Shaw, Blind Veterans UK Director of Operations said:

“Having to self-isolate, 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.

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For the latest information and guidance on the Service Charity Sector and the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, please click here