Durham blind veteran spending Christmas with 30 fellow blind veterans after sad death of his guide dog

A blind veteran from Durham has said that he needs the support of his friends more than ever as he’s set to spend Christmas with them following the death of his guide dog.

Alan Walker, 85 and from Meadowfield, will be joining more than 30 other vision-impaired ex-Service men and women at Blind Veterans UK’s Centre of Wellbeing in Llandudno. Sadly, Alan’s Guide Dog, Frances, had to be put down last month after supporting him for 10 years.

He says:

“My wife Vera sadly passed away in May 2021 due to Covid and Frances has been a real friend and lifeline particularly since then. Vera and I used to love going on holiday to the Blind Veterans UK centres but since she died I’ve also been going for Christmas to make sure I’m with friends.”

Alan will enjoy the festive period alongside staff and other blind veterans at the charity’s centre in Llandudno. During their stay veterans will have the opportunity to enjoy a whole host of activities including crafting, a Christmas fair, a choir, and festive food tasting.

They will come together for a traditional Christmas Day, enjoying lunch with all the trimmings before watching the King’s Christmas Day speech.

Alan joined the Army as part of his National Service at the age of 21 in 1960. One of the last National Servicemen, he joined the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC) and served in Germany and Belgium before he was discharged in 1963. A keen cricketer, Alan played for the RAOC and later for Durham County Cricket Club.

He began to lose his sight much later in his life due to age-related macular degeneration. He says:

“It was a massive blow to be told that I would eventually lose all my sight and there was nothing they could do. I knew I would have to stop working which was the hardest thing for me.”

Fortunately, he found out about Blind Veterans UK and started receiving support from the charity in 2011.

He says:

“The main thing Blind Veterans UK did for me early on was to show me that there were lots of things that I thought I couldn’t do that I could. I never thought I would have been able to be trained to use a computer but on that very first phone call they told me that that’s exactly what they’d do. They also gave me the computer to use!

“The social element of getting together with other people is really important to me and this Christmas it’s more important than ever. Over the years I reckon I’ve been to stay at the Blind Veterans UK centres about thirty times. Everyone there is always so kind and makes you feel really welcome. One of the friends I’ve made can’t come for Christmas so he and I are going to go back for Burn’s Night.

“I know I will be sad this year. I’ve now lost Vera and my guide dog and it has been very hard. But I also know that being with friendly faces over Christmas will make a huge difference to me.”

Blind Veterans UK’s Centre Manager in Llandudno, Kathy Boardman, says:

“We are really looking forward to welcoming some of our blind veterans to Llandudno for Christmas and the New Year.

“The majority of those joining us would otherwise be alone for the festive period but now they will be surrounded by other blind veterans and staff.”

Blind Veterans UK supports thousands of blind veterans like Alan, but knows there are many thousands more who still need its support to rebuild their lives after sight loss.

Alan says:

“I’d never heard about Blind Veterans UK before I’d lost my sight and I also hadn’t really thought that I was a proper veteran as I didn’t serve in the war. But Blind Veterans UK was here for me and they’re here for anyone else like me who has ever served and is now vision impaired.”

If you, or someone you know, served in the Armed Forces, including National Service, and are now struggling with sight loss, then please get in touch. Call 0800 389 7979 or visit blindveterans.org.uk/gethelp

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