Daily Post by David Powell Feb 21 2012
A CHARITY for visually-impaired ex-servicemen and women is today changing its name from St Dunstan’s to Blind Veterans UK.
The historic name was taken from the organisation’s first main premises back in 1915, but charity leaders say it is time for change because too few people know what St Dunstan’s actually is.
So rebranding themselves as Blind Veterans UK is their way of telling people exactly who they’re helping.
As he nears the end of his first six months in the Llandudno rehabilitation and training centre, its manager, Squadron Leader Mark Lovatt said: “The primary reason (for the name change) is that a lot of the population don’t understand what the charity does under its current name and by changing the name it will allow us to raise awareness which will give us two benefits.
“One, we believe, is that there are 50,000-plus ex-servicemen who have got some form of visual impairment who could benefit from the charity. So it will give us a better opportunity to have access to them.
“Secondly, in a difficult market we need to raise a considerable amount of money so we can service that membership and serve our three centres (in Llandudno, Brighton and Sheffield).”
Speaking at the Llandudno centre on Queen’s Road, Craig y Don, Sqn Ldr Lovatt said: “We are incredibly proud of the heritage. We’re going to dedicate a little room to St Dunstan here.
“The charity was the Help for Heroes charity of its day. Post-war, it was a very rich charity and everybody knew who it was but they don’t now.
“We recognise that my generation, and younger, probably don’t know what the charity is. This (name change) is an effort to address that.”
Sqn Ldr Lovatt says the cost of changing to Blind Veterans UK is a less than 1% of the organisation’s annual spending. He added: “We’ve been really inclusive and communicated with our 3,000 members, and staff to make sure they know what’s going on, they have some kind of buy-in, and they’ve get some influence.
“Ultimately, we had 200 names proposed. We sifted it down to a final four before we made the choice. St Dunstan’s itself was in the last four, and Battle Blindness was another one. But it was almost too clever. I think the name we settled on describes accurately what we do.
“I think people realise what veterans means now. It’s not just someone who’s just come back from war.”
The charity helps ex-military personnel who have lost sight from conflict, age, disease or accidents.
Sqn Ldr Lovatt adds: “I think one of the beauties of the charity is that once we support them, that’s it for life. So we have to think considerably far ahead to make sure the charity’s viable. We’re just coming up to our centenary. We’d like to think we’ve got a business plan to take us somewhere towards the next one.”
He reckons the first five months of the Llandudno centre have been a success. “I’m biased but I think it’s gone really well. I think we’ve got a really unique personality here partly to do with being in North Wales and the people we’ve recruited but also the location.
“This building gives us a wonderful platform. You see how it’s lit up at night. You see how it sits in the town. It makes it a real pleasure to come into work and for people to visit.
“It was a convalescent home until the 1970s then a private hospital (Queen’s Road Medical Centre) and we’ve restored it to its former glory. We’ve got old photos of soldiers convalescing here – so it really has come full circle.”
After the war, it was Lady Forrester, the wife of a West Midlands shale mine owner, who set it up as a convalescent home for their workers. She didn’t live to see it finished.
Sqn Ldr Lovatt added: “The members feel we care for them and care for each other. When you walk down the corridor here I’d be devastated if someone didn’t look you in the eye and smile and say hello.
“And you don’t need to be able to see. If you get a hello with a smile in the voice, you can tell the smile is there.”
Only 4% of registered blind people are completely blind.
“Our rehabilitation officers teach them to use what they have much better. We get moving stories of people with only peripheral vision left being told that if you put a photo out to the side and tilt your head in a certain way you might be able to see your grandkids for the first time. We’ve actually had that experience.”