Blind Veterans UK – Llandudno

Happy Fathers Day Dad!

This time next week, I will hopefully have finished the first of my big Challenges to raise funds for Blind Veterans UK.  Most of my posts have been about the training for the challenges. However, today, on Father’s Day, my Dad has just checked into the Llandudno Centre for his introductory week and so I wanted to outline some of the great work that Blind Veterans UK do and why I am motivated to support their efforts. Part of their work centres around training and rehabilitation to help members learn new skills and gain support in making the most of their changed world.  This is largely done at one of the three residential centres in Brighton, Sheffield and Llandudno. A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to take my parents on a tour around the Llandudno Centre and check out some of the facilities.

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Night time shot of the Llandudno Centre – photo off Blind Veterans UK

The site was originally developed around 1898 by the Lady Forester Trust as a convalescence home. During the Great War, it was designated an Auxilary Hospital and was used as a standby Field Hospital in WW2.  It remained in the Trust until falling into disuse in the late sixties.  In 1979 it was converted to a private hospital and became the North Wales Medical Centre until it was closed in 2006.  It was the acquired by St Dunstans and extensively renovated to become the third Blind Veterans UK residential centre.  It was officially opened by the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir David Richards GCB CBE DSO ADC on 2 May 2013.

The focus on Veterans, means that all members have a shared experience, in addition to their site loss, which builds support and camaraderie to help members accept their new situations.  There are a variety of testimonials on the Blind Veterans UK site and many of them reflect the fear and confusion on Day 1 of being thrust into a new situation but all reinforce the values of ‘No One Alone’ and the huge benefits of these centres.  Jim’s story was one of the first that I read and really resonated as I see the challenges my Father is facing.   The centre allows members to attend residential courses varying from introductory assessments through specific skills courses and onto respite care for members and their carers (non members pay a fee to cover costs). The facilities are just fantastic and provide a warm, welcoming and safe environment to allow members to understand their options and develop new skills.  I was fascinated to see the support from other forces charities, with Help for Heroes sponsoring the gym and the ABF the Dining Hall.

Matt and Steve couldn’t have been more helpful and showed us the recreational facilities (including archery and shooting), the dining and social facilities, the gym and specially adapted studios to teach reading, craft and kitchen skills.  I feel very privileged to have had this opportunity and to have met some of the Staff who do such a wonderful job to help members understand and begin to accept their situation and develop new skills to allow them to minimise the impact. Thank You guys for taking the time to show us around!

I know my Dad is very nervous about this week and I really wish I could be there to help him and perhaps join the ‘Regimental Dinner’ on Thursday but some muppet decided I need to cycle across the country on Saturday in Chase the Sun

If you would like to help support you can follow the links on the side bar

Thank you

After-Note – More to follow

Blind Veterans UK have abducted my parents!!!

I have just come off the phone with my parents who are at their introductory training week at the Llandudno centre.

When I spoke on Sunday my Dad was overawed and wondering when he could come home . . . After two days he is overawed with the progress made!

He spoke for nearly 2 hours about the superb training, the staff, the kit and the new opportunities he can see in the future. I know it will continue to be a bumpy ride but I have not heard either Mum or Dad so excited and vibrant since he lost his sight!

Matt, Steve, Billy, Dennis, Lisa and all the other staff are either miracle workers or have replaced my folks with Aliens!

What an awesome cause!

Thank You

If any of you are members and having second thoughts about attending an intro session – Go Now. The difference is confidence in just two days is unbelievable!

Stay safe

Slacky x

Tour de Sapper 2014

On Fri 6 June, 27 odd (and I mean odd!) bold and true headed to Leeds for the first (annual) Tour de Sapper.  This was the brainchild of Stan ‘Wiggo’ Darbyshire about a year ago and aimed to bring the REOBCG together for a weekend of cycling and ‘banter’.  The Royal Engineers Old Boy’s Cycling Group (REOBCG) is a virtual club for (non serving) Sappers with a passion for all things bike (As Stretch pointed out, Once a Sapper, always a Sapper!).  Whilst some of the group had met before and many had served in the same units; most had not met each other in person and this was the first opportunity to gain critical mass in the same location! Stan had promised us a flat rolling route, endless summer sun and stunning views across Gods own county but some doubt’s were raised about the competitive nature when Ans introduced the tag line of ‘if it’s not from Yorkshire, it’s Sh!te’ On Friday night, the troops assembled to recce the start and have pre-ride briefings in a sunny and bustling Millenium Square before retiring to carb load in the Templar Bar opposite the main accommodation (and next to the largest sex shop in the North East (closed down)).  The Templar Bar is a good old fashioned pub with a wide selection of carb and fruit drinks, TVs showing t’Rugby (no sound) and no blaring music.  Northern Man, couldn’t have been more welcoming despite the influx of jeans and dessies.  This was demonstrated when a few of us went for some food and got chatting to some locals who then had a whip around to buy us beer!  (Being ‘Athletes’ we instead donated this to Dave’s charity).

The following morning we RV’d at the start in varying states of health (some having slept fully clothed and one didn’t make parade) resplendent in bib shorts and a variety of Corps colours with high hopes for good weather.  Bryan Osborne had driven up from Cambridge at 5 am to take photos. It was a great gathering with folk having travelled from Scotland, Wales, Devon and Spain and we were pleased to be joined by some considerably better halves, with Michelle joining us on the ride.   TDS 14 Riders

The Team!

Paul O’Brien, Dave Coulling, Ash Hanby, Steve Matthews, Andy Burkinshaw, Ian Slack, Joe Bickel, Neil Gadd
Nigel Hyde, Mario Reid, Ans Duke, Simon Fox, Michelle, Burns, Dave Bickel, Phil Calladine, Brian Simm, Steve Robinson
Frank O’Meara, Steve Marshall, Jase Lewis, Paul Baxter, Mo Howe, Harvey Howe (Mo’s Bro), Mark Stretch Sulley, Stan Darbyshire
Missing – David McKay, Taff Shilliam partial
WAGs: Margaret DennisSue Simm, Kate Hanby, Wendy Lewis
 Photographer Bryan Osborne  http://www.photofellas.com

  After a group photo, we set off through Leeds.  It was a little stop / start to begin with due to the lights but this passed without issue.  At no stage did Mo fall off his bike because he forgot about his clipless peddles, nor did he crash into Jase Lewis!

The legacy of TDS 14

As we left Leeds, we hit the first cheeky climb to 150 m and the field began to spread out.  We also hit the first of the route markers that guided us through the hills.  Unfortunately, we also saw the last of the sun as the heavens opened.  Ans and I stopped at the roundabout to watch the pride of the Corps come around and take a salute before the racing snakes sped off, leaving the gentlemen enjoying the awful weather and a nice undulating run into Ripon.  The GPS seemed intent on taking us down the A1 but the ex Ripon inmates kept up on track.

We arrived at the Spa Hotel in Ripon just as Sun broke through.  Stan had arranged a Naafi break with cakes, scones and victoria sponge at the wonderful 4 Star hotel soothed by the gentle clack of crocket balls as white (waterproof) suited gentry exercised their summer right of sport.   Amazingly there wasn’t a copy of the sun, a rolly or a euchre deck to be seen, just a little too much flesh as wet clothes were hung to dry and Mario went poncing additional layers.

After suiting up, we set off on the return leg. Ans had arranged a treat for those interested and a splinter group set off to explore Claro Barracks.  There was some excitement as we passed Dog Squadron lines which reached fever pitch at the Plant Park and MGB pallets and I swear I saw Stretch wipe away a tear  as he gazed wistfully at the Guard Room.

There had been some banter about the hills over tea.  However, the second half really picked up the challenge as the hills became more brutal.  A few of us poottled along at the back and had our own little section competition as we fixed snapped chains (Ash, twice) burst tyres and spokes (Steve M) in quite the worst rain I have ever cycled in.  The guys really dug deep, several of them were breaking personal records with every mile they finished and had certainly not experienced Yorkshire hills or weather before.  It was fantastic to see the Sapper spirit shining through with Nigel taking some of the newer riders under his wing and Phil working to fix Ash’s chain.  Once again, Yorkshire hospitality shone through, when a passing car randomly provided a spare chain link to help the repairs. Harvey also showed his shining armour helping Mario free a stuck cleat (bless) and Andy overcome a bout of cramp.

The hills varied from steep or long to long and steep and caused the team to split up further.  Nigel stayed with Stretch, Harvey and Ash and I escorted Mo and Steve.  I think the repeated promises that ‘this is the last one’ started to wear thin.  When I offered to help fix Mo’s seat on a flat bit, it was made very clear that he was stopping for no man (or red light).  Up ahead, there were a couple of issues with Ans finishing the ride with ‘H-Bomb’ stuck in just one gear and Joe the domestique taking and unplanned 10 k sight seeing trip.  Taff Shilliam managed to meet up with Stan and the guys briefly from Ripon before heading back for his shift. As we made our way into Leeds, we came upon Bryan who had waited patiently in the rain for 3 hours to grab another picture.  We also picked up Michelle who was waiting patiently for Andy who has gotten lost.  Unfortunately Andy had made his own way back to the hotel and was well into his second pint.  We finally reached the finish point a couple of hours behind speedsters Dave Coulling and Simon Fox. Mo, Steve M and Harvey had all added tens of kms to their personal bests and Ash Hanby had more than tripled his, on a mountain bike, over hills, in the rain, with a broken chain!

As we headed back to the hotel the rain stopped and the Sun came out! After a quick admin session with certain folk sharing showers with their bikes, we reconvened at the Templar bar in tour shirts (thanks Dave) jeans and dessies to refuel.  Tales were told, successes were toasted and many many carbs reloaded.  All in all the inaugural Tour de Sapper was a huge success and has set a high bar for next year!

A write up wouldn’t be complete without some thanks:

To the stalwart WAGs who joined the event, thank you – it was lovely to meet you all!

To Bryan the Tog – Thank you so much for putting yourself out so much and we look forwards to seeing you in the saddle next year

To all those who joined for the ride, It was a priviledge to meet you all and an honour to be a member of our great club

To Stretch – REOBCG – What more can I say!

To Dave – Thanks for the Polos

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To Stan – What a great idea, fantastic venue and execution – The weather made it all the more infamous – You have created a monster – Thanks!

Great people and a great craic – Roll on TDS 15!   Stay Safe Shirley xx   TDS14 IMS

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