Two veterans with sight loss have expressed their delight at being able to finally return to the Hawkhead Centre in Paisley.
Sight Scotland Veterans’ activity hub for veterans with sight loss reopened its doors this summer after closing in line with pandemic restrictions in March 2020.
Army veteran John Kinnis, 83, of Paisley, has glaucoma and is registered as severely sight impaired. Living alone and unable to leave the house without a sighted guide, he was at home 24 hours a day throughout the lockdowns, and greatly missed the companionship he had found at the Hawkhead Centre.
'I look forward to going to the centre. It's the best day of the week.'
John, who has been supported by Sight Scotland’s sister charity, Sight Scotland Veterans, since 2009 and was one of the first veterans to begin attending the Hawkhead Centre when it first opened in 2017, said: “I felt like it was the beginning of things getting better on my first day back. It was so nice to see people again.
“I’m very pleased to be able to get that companionship back and get out of the house again. That same atmosphere of friendship is still there.
“Sight loss has meant that it has been more difficult to get out and meet people even before the lockdowns started. I’m here with not so many friends as I used to have and it feels sometimes that people don’t really have time for somebody who is blind.
“In the lockdowns, talking books helped me enormously. I did have phone calls from the Hawkhead Centre staff while the centre was closed and did appreciate that they were keeping in touch. When restrictions allowed, a Sight Scotland Veterans staff member was able to take me for a sighted guide walk around the park.
“The main difference the Hawkhead Centre makes for me is getting to speak to other people who are in a similar situation to myself and make friends. We can also turn to the staff for help and advice, and that’s been big help too. If the Hawkhead Centre hadn’t been there, I think I’d have been pretty depressed and wondering what on earth the next step is going to be.
“I look forward to the day that I go to the centre. It’s the best day of the week. Since being back at the centre I’ve made a stool in the workshop. I was very pleased with how it’s turned out, I’ve been so proud of it. I’m quite amazed that under guidance I can do so much that turns out so well.”
Royal Air Force veteran Ian McDonald, 84, of Johnstone, had also very much missed his weekly visit to the centre and the difference it makes to his life.
'Everyone is there to help you.'
Ian, who has the eye condition age-related macular degeneration, said: “It’s great to get back after so long. Every time we arrive there now, I say, ‘that’s us back home again’. There’s a lot of folk elated to be back.
“The lockdowns went on and on, and I will admit it was pretty depressing. You missed meeting everybody at the centre. It’s a bad day when you can’t have a laugh.
“The Hawkhead Centre a marvelous place and it’s such an important service for veterans with sight loss. The thing I enjoy most about it is that everyone is so sociable and friendly. You can’t ask for anything more.
“It makes a fantastic difference to me, instead of sitting in the house. Everyone is there to help you and the staff couldn’t be nicer.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has further highlighted and compounded the challenges many blind and partially sighted people face in the community. Many visually impaired people have experienced additional challenges such as difficulties with being able to adhere to social distancing and increased social isolation.
The Hawkhead Centre and Sight Scotland Veterans outreach support for veterans across Scotland is playing a more important role than ever, offering a safe and welcoming space for veterans with sight loss supported by the charity to re-engage in the local community, rebuild confidence and regain independence.
Gillian McDonald, Sight Scotland Veterans Centres’ Manager, said: “We were delighted to be able to reopen our activity hubs this summer in line with Scottish Government guidelines and begin to welcome back some of the veterans with sight loss we support.
“At the Hawkhead Centre we have reduced numbers of attendees just now and robust safety measures are in place as we gradually move towards some normality again.
“Many of the veterans we support had told us prior to the pandemic that they have experienced loneliness due to the impact of their sight loss. Without much-loved visits to the centre, for many it’s made the pandemic even more difficult to bear.
“Sight Scotland Veterans worked extremely hard to maintain vital support and social contact remotely with the veterans with sight loss we support while face-to-face meetings were not possible. It’s a joy for us to meet in person again after so long.”
To find out more about support for veterans with sight loss with Sight Scotland Veterans, call 0800 035 6409, email email@example.com or visit Sightscotlandveterans.org.uk