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Charities helping Aberdeenshire veterans stay connected

By Kyle Ritchie

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A Turriff RAF veteran with visual impairment has been supported by charities to ensure vital social connections are maintained during the pandemic.

Patrick Wire (80) has sight condition macular degeneration and has been supported by Sight Scotland Veterans for two years.

He was a regular at the charity's Inverurie lunch club before it was halted with lockdown in March.

However, Mr Wire has been able to stay in touch with his lunch club pals – the "Garioch Geezers" – and reminisce about their service days through the charity working with Age Scotland and using its Comradeship Circles group phone call service.

Mr Wire said: “We all attended Sight Scotland Veterans’ Inverurie lunch club and we made some quite good connections through it, so we are missing it.

"These calls are great and have helped to maintain our friendships. It’s so simple – they just give you a code to dial in and if you can’t manage it then they can ring you, which makes life a lot easier for some.

Turriff RAF veteran Patrick Wire.
Turriff RAF veteran Patrick Wire.

“You look forward to the call and it inspires you to think, which is good, otherwise you’d just sit and stare at the wall.

"As you get older you can’t get out – particularly right now – and my eyesight means I can’t get out on my electric scooter now.

“The majority of us in the group calls were in the RAF and we’ve found there’s a cross over between the camps we were on and people we knew. It’s fun to talk about your experience of being in the services.”

With Sight Scotland Veterans’ social activities for veterans with visual impairment still halted in line with restrictions, Aberdeenshire-based Sight Scotland Veterans’ outreach worker, Ingrid Penny, was seeking ways to keep spirits high remotely for the armed forces veterans she supports.

After she linked in with Age Scotland, seven veterans who regularly attended the charity's monthly Inverurie lunch club have been catching up fortnightly since October with the calls together from the safety of home.

Age Scotland launched its Comradeship Circles service in July, offering older armed forces veterans opportunities to join group chats with each other by phone.

Working together came naturally as both charities are members of Unforgotten Forces, a partnership focused on boosting health and wellbeing for older veterans.

Ms Penny and Age Scotland have also collaborated to set up a "Golden Girls" Comradeship Circle fortnightly group call for four ex-servicewomen with sight loss in Aberdeenshire.

Dawn Nicolson (87) of Huntly started receiving support from Sight Scotland Veterans recently and has been been getting to know fellow veterans also supported by the charity through the calls.

The Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) veteran, who has the sight condition Retinitis Pigmentosa, said: “The calls are quite a good thing for people who may be a bit lonely, particularly these days.

"I think it’s an excellent idea because it gives you somebody to talk to and something to talk about.

"One doesn’t really realise how much you missed speaking to people. I think a fortnightly call is just right.”

Partnership working with other charities, organisations and local authorities forms an important part of Sight Scotland Veterans’ support offering for veterans with sight loss.

Ms Penny said: “Many of the older veterans we support often tell us they have experienced loneliness due to the impact of their sight loss.

"As we are still unable to run our social activities, some people are feeling this social isolation even more acutely.

“Age Scotland’s Comradeship Circles service has been brilliant in helping some of our Aberdeenshire veterans to maintain vital social connections through these restrictions.

"It’s particularly beneficial for those whose visual impairment and/or lack of access to technology means virtual contact isn’t possible.

“Partnership working with other charities and organisations has been more important than ever as we continue to provide veterans with sight loss with emotional and practical support in any way we can in these unprecedented times.”

Age Scotland Comradeship Circles coordinator Rachel Connor said: “It’s been a pleasure to help facilitate the Comradeships Circles calls for the Aberdeenshire Sight Scotland Veterans members.

"It’s brilliant to hear everyone asking after each other and having a laugh on the calls.

"This is a wonderful example of different organisations working together to be there for the people they support, and encouraging in such a challenging time.”

To find out more about Sight Scotland Veterans’ support for veterans with sight loss, call 0800 035 6409, visit sightscotlandveterans.org.uk or email hello@sightscotlandveterans.org.uk

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