Scottish War Blinded is on a mission to keep veterans smiling

Keeping up the spirits of veterans with sight loss who are isolated at home due to coronavirus is a top priority for Scottish War Blinded.

By Julie Currie
Friday, 1st May 2020, 7:30 am
Outreach team...may not be able to meet members just now but Scottish War Blinded is still working hard to ensure no-one is socially isolated.
Outreach team...may not be able to meet members just now but Scottish War Blinded is still working hard to ensure no-one is socially isolated.

Covering every local authority area in Scotland, the charity’s 17-strong outreach team provides a one-to-one support service, including home visits, as well as running group activities and lunch clubs.

Rising to the challenges of coronavirus, they have carried on supporting veterans – albeit remotely.

Rebecca Barr, Scottish War Blinded services director, said: “Our veterans need us now more than ever.

While they can't meet members face to face at the moment, the outreach team made 919 calls last week to ensure veterans had everything they needed during lockdown.

“We’re working hard to ensure each and every person we support knows they are not alone and is getting the help they need.

“It’s vital that we continue to combat social isolation during this difficult period when many could be feeling this even more acutely.”

Scottish War Blinded supports anyone who has been in the forces, including those who did National Service, and now has sight loss which has impacted on their independence.

Most members are older veterans who completed their National Service many years ago and now have an age-related condition such as macular degeneration.

Rebecca said: “Many veterans who did National Service are surprised we’re here to support them.

“In 2007, we changed our constitution to include age-related conditions so that gave our charity a much-wider remit than those who lost their sight in the first and second world wars and other conflicts.”

With lunch groups and activities cancelled in line with Scottish Government advice, the outreach team are turning to telephones and technology to support their 1400 members.

It’s no mean feat. Last week, the team made 919 calls.

Rebecca said: “It’s a difficult time for everyone just now and our members are keen to get back to normal life but we have to adhere to government advice on social distancing.

“Everyone we support has had a call to ensure they know they can get in touch with us. We’ve also pulled together a list of those who are at high risk and in the shielding group and those who are living alone and most vulnerable, who are receiving frequent calls.

“We’re drawing up a really comprehensive resource for our staff that details all local and national support groups, so if anything changes we can quickly help them access support in their local area.

“We’re also still referring members to Scottish War Blinded’s rehabilitation team, who are conducting telephone assessments for magnifiers and kitchen aids which we can post out, as well as providing expert advice to help people maintain their independence at home.

“Although our outreach workers can’t meet people or host social groups, they are working hard to ensure people who are particularly vulnerable don’t feel that they’re on their own.

“Last week, they made 919 calls to members and their families, who have contacted us because often they live some distance away.

“We’re checking in to make sure they have all the groceries and medication they need but it’s more than that; it’s about making sure they know someone else is at the other end of the phone should they need help.

“Everybody is feeling it now and our members are concerned – but they love getting our phone calls.

“We’re doing all we can to keep our veterans smiling.”

The charity is also using technology to help members.

Rebecca said: “We’ve been sharing online exercise classes and sessions and some home made videos on our Facebook page too.

“We even managed to get a magnifier into hospital for one gentleman so he could read his paper every day.

“We want to make sure our members still feel connected, even if they are having to isolate or shield.”

Scottish War Blinded has two centres – Linburn at Wilkieston in West Lothian and the Hawkhead Centre in Paisley, which was set to open its doors just before lockdown.

So the charity has much to look forward to.

Rebecca added: “The new centre is ready to go when life returns to normal.

“We also have holiday cottages, situated in walking distance of the centres, to give members a chance to enjoy a cost-effective break.

“We run classes to build confidence, including arts and crafts and cookery.

“A lot of gents enjoy the cooking classes. I think their wives welcome it too as they can get out of the kitchen!”

Helping veterans for 105 years

Scottish War Blinded was founded in 1915 when the Royal Blind decided to take steps to help veterans blinded during World War One.

A committee was set up that recommended the establishment of a centre, Newington House, to provide rehabilitation and training to blinded soldiers and sailors.

In 1928, Scottish War Blinded purchased premises at Number 2 Queen’s Crescent, Glasgow providing vocational skills training and permanent employment for members in cane weaving, mat-making and boot repairing.

Although non-residential at Queen’s Crescent, the initiative allowed many members in the west of Scotland to secure a wage without the need to travel great distances and enjoy the same camaraderie experienced at Newington House.

In 2007, Scottish War Blinded expanded its free membership provision to support veterans who developed a visual impairment after their service.

So the charity now gives free support to former servicemen and women of all ages, no matter if they lost their sight during or after service, including National Service.

The majority of veterans currently benefiting from its services actually developed sight loss as a result of age related conditions, such as macular degeneration.

Support can include:

Rehabilitation and training to adapt to sight loss;

Grants for equipment to assist with independent living;

Funded respite care;

Home modifications;

Recreation and social activities.

The charity also has two centres, Linburn in Wilkieston and Hawkhead in Paisley.

For more information about support for veterans call 0800 035 6409 or visit www.scottishwarblinded.org.