Crossways: Helen and Mrs Lambeth Visit Buckingham Palace
Blind Veterans UK (formerly St Dunstan's) cares not only for ex-Service men and women blinded in action, but also for veterans who have lost their sight through accident, illness or old age.
They have three centres (in Brighton, Llandudno and Sheffield) that provide residential and respite care plus sports facilities, as well as qualified welfare staff who help blind veterans across the UK to live independently within their own communities.
Three years ago, Crossways House chose Blind Veterans UK as our House Charity and, alongside all our traditional fundraising efforts, we have forged close personal links with staff and members through our weekly voluntary work at the Ovingdean Centre.
Ray Hazan OBE, President of Blind Veterans UK, has become a welcome figure at Bede's. Roy has been a guest and has spoken at Crossways' Formal Dinners, and he addressed the School prior to laying a wreath at our Remembrance Day Service in November.
It was with huge delight that I received an invitation to a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace to celebrate the Centenary of Blind Veterans UK, and on Thursday 4th June, Helen Lang, an Upper Sixth Crossways girl, and I made our way to London for this very special occasion.
Helen has been one of the consistent volunteers at the Ovingdean Centre, as well as being the House Charity Rep for the last year, serving on Rev Buckler's committee, and she was my immediate and very obvious choice for a "plus one".
We were extremely lucky with the weather, the rain and wind of the previous two days having made way for glorious sunshine, and blue skies unsullied with clouds.
We met with other staff and volunteers at the Goring Hotel for a drink and the opportunity to don our beautiful headwear, then we walked round to the palace where, amidst growing excitement, we chatted to everyone around us about their connections with this wonderful charity.
Having posed for pictures outside the famous London landmark, we had our ID checked by cheerful police and were ushered into the grounds.
The garden was vast and alongside two wonderful military bands playing a selection of music, there was much entertainment to be had in chatting to members and their guests as well as soaking up the atmosphere.
At 4pm precisely, the Band of the Coldstream Guards struck up the National Anthem and the Countess of Wessex appeared on the steps. She then spent over an hour and a half being introduced to various members, staff, volunteers and guide dogs before making her way to the Royal Tea Tent for afternoon tea.
During this time, Helen and I had the most amazing tea of cucumber sandwiches, smoked salmon rolls, strawberry tarts and Victoria sponges, then wandered around the palace gardens which were absolutely beautiful, with the Rhodedendrons, Azaleas, Geraniums, Foxgloves and Roses in full bloom.
The lake had moorhens and ducks with ducklings on and we posed for pictures at every opportunity.
At 6pm, once again, the National Anthem was played which signified the end of the party and we left through Buckingham Palace, trying very hard to imprint the memories on our minds.
It was the most wonderful experience - one I never expected to have and which both Helen and I enjoyed more than we can possibly describe.
I thoroughly enjoy working with Blind Veterans UK, and hope to continue our relationship with this outstanding charity for many years to come.