Blind Veterans UK standing down “iconic but unsuitable” Ovingdean building after over 80 years’ service as charity looks to move to new facility

Military charity Blind Veterans UK have announced that they are standing down their training and rehabilitation centre in Ovingdean, East Sussex, to allow the charity to move to a new building.

Chief Executive of Blind Veterans UK, Major General (Rtd) Nick Caplin CB says:

“Unfortunately our iconic, long-serving building near Brighton is now becoming less and less suitable for our purposes. We have decided to take the difficult decision to leave this building by 2024 and begun the search for a new home.

“This building has seen some historic periods over the last 83 years, not least the super-human efforts of all our care staff in protecting and supporting our permanent residents there throughout the pandemic.

“The blind veteran population we support today is very different to that of the 1930s and the average age of the veterans we support now is 87. So, this is an opportunity for us to move to a new building, offering different services, that far better suits their needs and the needs of future blind veterans.”

The building, located just off the seafront next to Roedean School, was first opened in 1938. The work of architect Francis Lorne, it is believed to be unique in being purpose-built for younger blind people who themselves had input into its design and functions.

Almost immediately the building was seconded to become part of HMS Vernon, the Admiralty training school during the Second World War, but was returned to the charity shortly after.

Lesley Garven, Brighton Centre Manager, says:

“It will be a sad day when we finally close the doors here for the last time and we will have to make sure we have an appropriate celebration to give it a proper send off.

“It is very important for us to remember that it is not the building that makes our Brighton Centre what it is; it is our amazing people, our veterans, staff, and volunteers. And it is with these people that we will improve what we offer in a new building.

“This search is already underway, with Sussex as our top priority, and our goal is to find a building that is better suited and more accessible for our blind veterans today.

“We are allowing time to do this move properly and are committed to continuing our care of our permanent residents for as long as is required. When we move, those residents will be invited to join us.”

Maureen Atkinson, 96, has been a resident in Ovingdean for three and a half years. She says:

“Everyone has taken such good care of us in my time here, especially over the last year or so with the virus.

“I think the move is a very good idea and it’s lovely that all us residents will be able to move together.

“This is a great opportunity to start afresh and I just hope I’ll still be here to enjoy the new place when we do move!”

Blind Veterans UK has had a base in Sussex since 1915, just weeks after the charity was founded to support those blinded in the First World War.

From 1917, the charity occupied a larger property in the Kemp Town area of Brighton. In addition to providing training and social activities, the centres in the county and elsewhere have variously served to provide holidays, a healthy seaside environment for those needing longer-term rehabilitation, and care for those who sadly have suffered with severe mental or physical health problems additional to their loss of sight.

Although initially founded to support those blinded in conflict, Blind Veterans UK now supports veterans regardless of when they served or how they lost their sight. The vast majority of the 4,500 veterans currently supported have lost their sight due to age-related conditions such as macular degeneration.

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