Blind Veterans UK to move to new West Sussex home in deal with RAF Benevolent Fund

The future of Princess Marina House in Rustington has been confirmed as two military charities announce they have exchanged contracts.

The agreement will see Blind Veterans UK move into the RAF Benevolent Fund’s former holiday home.

Air Vice-Marshal Chris Elliot, controller of the RAF Benevolent Fund, said: “We are really pleased that Princess Marina House will still be able to offer support for the military community, albeit in new ways and for a different group of veterans.

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“The house is a unique space that holds a very special place in the memory of many RAF veterans and Fund staff and we wish Blind Veterans UK all the very best as they move to their West Sussex home.”

Princess Marina House in Rustington, formerly the RAF Benevolent Fund's holiday home

The seafront property has been bought by Blind Veterans UK as its new south coast home and all residents will be moved from its iconic but now unsuitable centre in Ovingdean.

Major General (Rtd) Nick Caplin, chief executive of Blind Veterans UK, said: “We are very excited to be making the short trip along the Sussex coast and moving to our new Rustington home.

“The fact that we are buying this building from a fellow military charity is fantastic. PMH is very well known in the local area for providing care and support for veterans and we will be proud to continue that wonderful legacy in a local community that is very supporting.

“The blind veteran population we support today is very different to that of the 1930s, when our Ovingdean centre opened, and the average age of the veterans we support now is 87. Moving to this new building will mean we can offer different services that far better suit their needs and the needs of future blind veterans.”

Blind Veterans UK's iconic but now unsuitable centre in Ovingdean

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.

Lesley Garven, the Brighton centre manager, said: “Although it will be a sad day when we finally close the doors in Ovingdean for the last time, we have the excitement of moving to our new home. Many great memories have been made over the last 83 years and we look forward to making many more in Rustington.

“One of the best things about this new building is its location. PMH is right on the beach and at the heart of the local community. This will mean that the centre and the local area will be far more accessible and we hope to become a real part of the Rustington community.”

From 1917, the charity occupied a large 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 have suffered with severe mental or physical health problems in addition 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.

Maureen Atkinson, 96, has been a resident in Ovingdean for four years. She said: “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.”