A FORMER soldier from Tranent living with sight loss was “ecstatic” to return to a well-loved veterans’ hub to work on his computing skills – and virtual reality (VR) gaming!

Derek Meechan, 58, who lives in the Muirpark area of Tranent with his partner Michelle Knox, has glaucoma – a common eye condition where the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain, becomes damaged.

Derek, who served with the Royal Scots for 15 years, was put in contact with the charity Sight Scotland Veterans thanks to Veterans First Point, a mental health service for veterans and their loved ones.

Derek recently returned to Sight Scotland Veterans’ Linburn Centre in Wilkieston, West Lothian, for the first time since it closed its doors in March last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sight Scotland Veterans provides free support to ex-servicemen and women with sight loss and has introduced Derek – a gamer and computer whiz – to large-button keyboards and technology to help him continue his passion.

The retired security manager is also a regular at the centre’s IT suite, where he has been exploring virtual reality worlds thanks to the centre’s VR kit.

Derek said: “Before I started attending the centre, I didn’t know about these assistive technologies and the range of equipment that was there to help people with sight loss access computers.

“My sight loss had very much been making computing more difficult to do.

“I’m a bigger gamer and with a large-button keyboard I can keep on doing it and it helps particularly because I can only use one hand now due to a stroke.

“It is brilliant that we have the opportunity to try out activities like this at the centre and the staff are so good and supportive.

Derek was “ecstatic” to be reunited with the company of fellow servicemen and women after more than a year away from the centre.

East Lothian Courier: The veteran is regaining his love for computing. Image: Derek MeechanThe veteran is regaining his love for computing. Image: Derek Meechan

He added: “It’s tremendously important to me to have the centre back in my life again.

“It was difficult not going for so long – I missed it very much.

“It was the socialising aspect of attending the centre that appealed to me and getting to meet other veterans who also have sight loss; it’s important to have others in similar circumstances to yourself to talk with.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the challenges many blind and partially sighted people in East Lothian and surrounding communities face.

Many visually impaired people have experienced additional challenges such as difficulties with being able to adhere to social distancing and increased social isolation.

The Linburn Centre and Sight Scotland Veterans’ outreach support offers a safe and welcoming space for veterans with sight loss to re-engage in the local community, rebuild confidence and regain their independence.

Gillian McDonald, Sight Scotland Veterans’ centres manager, said: “Many of the veterans we support had told us prior to the pandemic that they have experienced loneliness due to the impact of their sight loss.

“Without visits to the centre, it’s made the pandemic even more difficult to bear for many.

“Sight Scotland Veterans worked extremely hard to maintain vital support and social contact remotely with the veterans with sight loss we support while face-to-face meetings were not possible.

“It’s a joy for us to meet in person again after so long.”

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