Blesma has faced many significant challenges in its 100-year history, but perhaps none as great as the coronavirus pandemic. Over the last few months, the shockwaves of COVID-19 have had a severe impact on all of our lives.
When lockdown began, we immediately reached out to our Membership – injured and limbless veterans, prioritising those who were particularly vulnerable. That included the elderly and shielded, of course, but some Members who don’t fall into the groups officially classed as vulnerable still need extra care: permanent wheelchair users who don’t drive and live alone without a support network, for example.
We checked people were safe and had adequate support. If they didn’t, we provided vital help. But we are only able to give practical help, emotional support and financial assistance to our injured veterans and their families in these difficult times because of our supporters.
Here are just a few examples of how this crucial help has changed our Members’ lives in recent weeks.
“Blesma has given me back my freedom”
Double amputee Tim has regained his independence after Blesma gave him a wheelchair.
Tim, who joined the Army at 16, had been having difficulties with his prosthetic legs that left him unable to do essential food shopping. “It hurts if I walk on them too long,” said the 48-year-old.
“Limb Centres can’t help because of coronavirus and the wheelchair I had was too heavy to lift into my car.”
Tim’s left leg was amputated in 2015, followed by his right leg last year. “When I’ve tried to go shopping for food, I’ve had to ask people to help me with my wheelchair. I struggle severely with depression, so being stuck inside all day wasn’t helping,” said Tim. “I spoke to my Blesma Support
Officer who said the charity would be able to provide me with a lightweight wheelchair that was collapsible to put into the car for longer journeys. It has given me back my freedom and independence.”
“I couldn’t handle life before I joined Blesma”
An injured veteran who was made homeless earlier this year had one less thing to worry about during lockdown thanks to Blesma. Following the breakdown of his relationship this February, former Royal Highland Fusilier Dave found himself homeless. He turned to Blesma, and we were able to find him accommodation with a veteran’s project.
“The new accommodation is cracking, and Blesma even gave me groceries and a grant to see me through this tough time,” said the 49-year-old, whose left leg was amputated below the knee 10 years ago. “I don’t know what I’d have done without them.”
Dave is now enjoying virtual Blesma events and joining in with them is keeping his spirits up. “I couldn’t handle life before I joined Blesma,” said Dave. “The charity gives me something to look forward to. The way it treats Members is invaluable.”
“I have made new friends through the Blesma Connects app!”
Charles is one of the Blesma Members for whom the Blesma Connects app is helping tackle isolation during the COVID-19 lockdown. Charles has spent the last few months connecting with the many friends he has made through the charity using the app’s chat function. “Television is too depressing right now so every morning, while I’m having my cornflakes, I check the app to see if there are any updates from Blesma or if I have received any new messages. I have even made new friends through the app! I’m learning a lot about other Members’ lives and their disabilities, and they’re learning about mine.”
While the 86-year-old was self-isolating alone in his home in South Yorkshire, Blesma encouraged him to pick up an iPad for the first time. He agreed, and through Blesma’s Digital Inclusion Programme, Charles became the first Member to be given an iPad to allow him to connect with other Members, as well as friends and family. He has already learned how to share photos.
“I am still learning, and am teaching myself how to use the tablet, but I am confident that I’ll take to it,” Pete said “My grandson Jamie – as well as Blesma – help me when I get stuck.”
If you would like to find out more about becoming a Blesma member or supporting Blesma please visit www.blesma.org