A retired soldier from South Tyneside is the new head of the national charity for visually-impaired former service personnel.
Colin Williamson has been appointed President of Blind Veterans UK after 15 years with the charity.
This is the supreme accolade in Blind Veterans UK and I am humbled to have been asked.Colin Williamson
Colin, 60, of Mons Avenue, Hebburn, spoke of his ‘huge pride’ in accepting the position. He will be only the sixth President in the charity’s 102-year history.
“This is the supreme accolade in Blind Veterans UK and I am humbled to have been asked,” he said.
Colin joined the military in the Junior Leaders at the age of 15. At 17, he joined the Royal Artillery as a driver, gunner and signaller and served in Germany and on two tours of Northern Ireland in 1975 and 1977.
After his Service, Colin went on to work as a field engineer for BT for 27 years but he continued to serve in the Territorial Army until 1989.
Colin was registered blind in 2003 after a serious assault left him blind in his right eye, and caused the sight in his left eye to deteriorate over the following years.
“I found out about Blind Veterans UK, or St Dunstan’s as it was known then, through a colleague whose brother-in-law was supported by the charity,” he said.
“I will always be grateful for that because my first visit to the charity’s centre in Brighton made me realise I wasn’t alone and could still have an active life.”
Adn he paid tribute to his predecessor in the role: “The greatest honour is to follow Ray Hazan OBE in the role. No one has had more of an influence in this charity than him in the last 50 years. He was so often the person I turned to for advice and I am so grateful. If I can be half as good a President as Ray then I will be happy.”
Colin soon started volunteering for Blind Veterans UK and helped organise the charity’s “Cadet Challenge” that worked with Army, Navy, Air and Police Cadets around the country, raising money and awareness.
He went on to work as a Communications Officer and, as well as representing Blind Veterans UK at numerous events, contributes articles to the charity’s monthly in-house magazine Review.
In 2010, Colin led the first ever exchange programme between blind veterans from the UK and USA. ‘Project Gemini’, as it became known, is now in its seventh year and also includes blind veterans from South Africa.
“I’m very proud of the work that has been done through Project Gemini,” he said.
“The peer support that is created by bringing blind veterans together from different countries is so important. Many of the relationships created have continued and I see it very much as a mentoring programme today.”
Chief Executive of Blind Veterans UK, Major General (Rtd) Nick Caplin CB, says: “It gives me great pride to announce Colin as our new President.
“He has already served the charity so well for the last 15 years and his experience working with many other military and sight-loss organisations will be a huge asset.
“He will be an excellent ambassador for Blind Veterans UK.”
Blind Veterans UK was founded in 1915 and the charity’s initial purpose was to help and support soldiers blinded in WWI. But the organisation has gone on to support more than 35,000 blind veterans and their families, spanning WWII to recent conflicts including Iraq and Afghanistan.
For more than a century, the charity has been providing vital free training, rehabilitation, equipment and emotional support to blind and vision-impaired veterans no matter when they served or how they lost their sight.
Visit blindveterans.org.uk/support to learn more about the charity and how you can support its vital work today.