Sophie, the Duchess of Edinburgh, describes Rustington centre as ‘the perfect place’ as she opens Blind Veterans UK’s new south coast home

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The Duchess of Edinburgh has visited Rustington to formally open the new south coast home of military charity Blind Veterans UK.

As its patron, the Duchess visited the Centre of Wellbeing, in Seafield Road, on Friday and saw first-hand the difference the charity makes to the lives of the blind veterans it supports.

Blind Veterans UK, formerly known as St Dunstan’s, completed the move from Ovingdean, its previous Sussex home, at the end of last year.

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Lesley Garven, Rustington centre manager, said: “After an initial phased opening, particularly ensuring that our small number of permanent residents were settled in, the building is now operating at full capacity welcoming blind veterans from across the country for holidays, themed and activity weeks and for specific training and rehabilitation.

The Duchess of Edinburgh talking to blind Second World War veteran Maureen. Picture: Blind Veterans UKThe Duchess of Edinburgh talking to blind Second World War veteran Maureen. Picture: Blind Veterans UK
The Duchess of Edinburgh talking to blind Second World War veteran Maureen. Picture: Blind Veterans UK
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"We had over 80 years of history at our Brighton centre, but we’ve had such a warm welcome from the local community in Rustington that I know we’ll be making all new memories here.

"It was such an honour for our blind veterans and our new staff team here for our Royal Patron to visit and formally open our new south coast home.”

On the tour of the building, Sophie, the Duchess of Edinburgh, met with veterans who served in the Second World War, blind veteran archers, and tried her hand at some mosaic making with veterans who enjoy art and craft.

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The Duchess of Edinburgh unveiling the plaque alongside blind veterans Gary and Peter. Picture: Blind Veterans UKThe Duchess of Edinburgh unveiling the plaque alongside blind veterans Gary and Peter. Picture: Blind Veterans UK
The Duchess of Edinburgh unveiling the plaque alongside blind veterans Gary and Peter. Picture: Blind Veterans UK

Her Royal Highness also assisted with the ceremonial reburial of a time capsule that was dug up from the charity’s former centre in Brighton and marched to Rustington by a group of blind veterans last summer.

The time capsule, buried in 2015 to mark 100 years of Blind Veterans UK, contains items and documents detailing the history of the organisation. Among them is a talking watch, the first piece of equipment offered to every Blind Veterans UK beneficiary. It is still set to be opened in 2115, 100 years after it was originally buried.

Blind Veterans UK has had an association with Sussex that dates to just after the charity’s founding in 1915 including one of its first bases in Kemptown from 1917.

The Duchess also unveiled a very special plaque, carved from wood and made by two blind veterans, Peter Kay and Gary Stevenson, who have been supported by the charity.

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The Duchess of Edinburgh talking to blind veteran Alan Walker on his exercise bike. Picture: Blind Veterans UKThe Duchess of Edinburgh talking to blind veteran Alan Walker on his exercise bike. Picture: Blind Veterans UK
The Duchess of Edinburgh talking to blind veteran Alan Walker on his exercise bike. Picture: Blind Veterans UK

Before the unveiling, Sophie said: “What a perfect place, a sensorial place with wonderful surroundings. Here you’re getting a whole environment, inside and outside. So thank you so much and I hope it will be a very, very happy place. Well, it already is.”

One of the blind veterans that had the opportunity to meet The Duchess was Alan Walker. Alan started the whole visit off when he was given the responsibility of raising the Royal Standard when the Royal party arrived. He also had the opportunity to talk to Her Royal Highness in the charity’s new gym.

Alan said: “I serve as a standard bearer for Blind Veterans UK, so it really is the ultimate honour to raise that Royal Standard for the time The Duchess of Edinburgh was with us.

“I was also proud to speak to Her Royal Highness and get across the impact the charity has had on me since I lost my sight.”

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Alan, 65, from Hassocks, joined the Army in 1976 and served 14 years as a Qualified Chauffeur Bodyguard in the Falklands, Germany and the UK.

Alan lost his sight on Christmas Day in 2012. He was hospitalised with a pneumococcal infection in his eyes and brain, which caused him to become completely blind in his left eye and have only 30 per cent sight in his right.

He began to receive support from Blind Veterans UK in 2013 and, since then, the charity supported him in retraining as a gym instructor. He now represents the charity at events across the country as a standard bearer. He was also one of a group of blind veterans that contributed to the design and layout of the new Rustington centre.

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   

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

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