New facility for blinded soldiers set to open


By Cara Sulieman

WORK ON a new multi-million pound facility for soldiers blinded in action is due to start next week.

The new building will house a workshop, art space, training areas, gym, therapy spaces and a remembrance room.

Costing £3 million, it has been funded by donations and legacies, and will open in 2010.

The Scottish National Institute for War Blinded are constructing the new state of the art centre next to their existing workshop in Wilkieston, West Lothian.

Having worked with blinded servicemen and women since world war two, the centre is hoping that the new facilities can help rehabilitate modern soldiers.

Wood and metalwork

Chief Executive of the centre, Richard Hellewell, said: “The existing workshop was designed for soldiers coming out of World War II in the 1940s and took in many more people than we’re seeing today.

“The original workshop, which focused on developing skill such as woodwork and metalwork, was designed to hold about 70 people.

“Mercifully, our rolls are falling because of advances in eye protection, but there was many factors in conflict that can cause someone to lose their sight.

“As well as the risk of shrapnel damage to the eye soldiers can suffer neurological damage that can cause them to lose their sight, even after they’ve returned from conflict.

“The new facility will have a capacity of about 35 but there will be a much wide range of facilities to reflect modern interests.”

Gulf wars and Afghanistan

In the last few years the charity has tried to reach out to more people across the country, taking on 100 new members from around Scotland in the last year alone.

Richard said: “Most lost their sight since they left military service, but there are a number who had previously not been known to us whose sight loss was during or consequent upon their service.

“The number we are supporting who lost their sight as a direct result of conflict zone injuries in the two Gulf wars and Afghanistan is small – perhaps about half a dozen – but it is important that we are here for them and have services capable of helping greater numbers in future.”

The design of the building was inspired by a hand-carved Chinese dragon from the golf club at Fanling, Hong Kong.

They are long-time supporters of the Scottish War Blinded and the dragon is on display at the workshop.

Aircraft wing

Richard said that it was also designed to make the servicemen more comfortable in their environment.

He added: “The design also echoes an aircraft wing, or a propeller, which fits in with our aim or keeping comfortable reminders of forces life in the centre.

“It will be open plan so the atmosphere will be like working in a large tent, which will again evoke life in the forces.

“We expect to cater for between 120 and 150 people a week from as wide a catchment as is practical. Most of our users will only pop in for one or two days at a time.”

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