A Tranent army veteran with sight loss has been delving into new experiences with virtual reality on his return to a charity’s activity hub. 

Derek Meechan, 58, has glaucoma and is supported by Sight Scotland Veterans. He is delighted to be attending Sight Scotland Veterans’ Linburn Centre in Wilkieston, West Lothian again. 

He is one of number of veterans with sight loss based in East Lothian who attend the centre, which closed its doors in March 2020 in line with pandemic restrictions and has finally been able to welcome attendees back this summer. 

A keen gamer and computer whizz, Sight Scotland Veterans has introduced Derek to large button keyboards and technology to enable him to continue his hobby

A regular in the Linburn Centre’s IT suite, he’s even been exploring virtual reality worlds with the centre’s VR kit.  

Derek, who served 15 years with the Royal Scots, said: “Before I started attending the centre I didn’t know about these assistive technologies and the range of equipment that was there to help people with sight loss access computers. 

“Computing had already been a hobby of mine, but my sight loss had very much been making it more difficult to do. It’s due to the centre that I have a large monitor now which really helps. The support of the centre’s  IT instructor, Brian Wilson, has also been invaluable.  

“I’m a bigger gamer, and with a large button keyboard I can keep on doing it and helps particularly because I can only use one hand now due to a stroke. 

“I was one of the first veterans to try the VR kit out before the centre closed last year. It’s fantastic, it’s so realistic. It’s brilliant that we have the opportunity to try out activities like this at the centre and the staff are so good and supportive.” 

After so long away from the centre due to the pandemic, Derek is “ecstatic” to get back the companionship of its veterans’ community. 

Derek said: “It’s tremendously important to me to have the centre back in my life again. It was difficult not going for so long. I missed it very much. Each Wednesday I would always get that feeling that I should be getting ready to go there. It was a huge part of my routine and I really missed the social side of things. I’d gotten to know a lot of the veterans who attend quite well and missed the staff a lot as well.   

“The staff did call us regularly throughout the time the centre was closed. It made a huge difference to keep having that contact with them. 

 “It was the socialising aspect of attended the centre that appealed to me and getting to meet other veterans who also have sight loss. It’s important to have others in similar circumstances to yourself to talk with. It’s certainly the thing that I’ve enjoyed most about it.” 

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 Linburn 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 Sight Scotland Veterans 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 Linburn 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 the support for veterans with sight loss with Sight Scotland Veterans, call 0800 035 6409, email hello@sightscotlandveterans.org.uk or visit Sightscotlandveterans.org.uk 

Veteran Derek Meechan wearing the VR kit in the Linburn's IT Suite