The Duchess of Edinburgh has formally opened a new home for veterans.

Military charity Blind Veterans UK welcomed her as its patron for a ceremony at the centre in Rustington, near Littlehampton.

The charity moved from the landmark St Dunstan’s building in Ovingdean last year.

Duchess Sophie visited the charity at its new home to see the difference it makes to the lives of the blind veterans it supports.

On a tour of the building she met veterans who served in the Second World War, blind veteran archers and tried her hand at some mosaic making with veterans who enjoy art and craft.

Duchess Sophie with blind veteran MaureenDuchess Sophie with blind veteran Maureen (Image: Blind Veterans UK)

The duchess said: “What a perfect place, a sensorial place with wonderful surroundings. Here you’re getting a whole environment, inside and outside. So thank you so much and I hope it will be a very, very happy place. Well, it already is.”

One of the blind veterans who had the opportunity to meet the duchess was Alan Walker.

Alan, from Hassocks, started the whole visit off when he was given the responsibility of raising the Royal Standard when the Royal party arrived. He also had the opportunity to talk to the duchess in the charity’s new gym.

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Alan said: “I serve as a standard bearer for Blind Veterans UK so it really is the ultimate honour to raise that Royal Standard for the time the Duchess of Edinburgh was with us.

“I was also proud to speak to Her Royal Highness and get across the impact the charity has had on me since I lost my sight.”

Alan, 65, joined the Army in 1976 and served 14 years as a qualified chauffeur bodyguard in the Falklands, Germany and the UK.

He lost his sight on Christmas Day in 2012. He was taken to hospital with a pneumococcal infection in his eyes and brain, which caused him to become completely blind in his left eye and have only 30 per cent sight in his right.

Duchess Sophie with blind veterans Gary and PeterDuchess Sophie with blind veterans Gary and Peter (Image: Blind Veterans UK)

He began to receive support from Blind Veterans UK in 2013 and, since then, the charity has  supported him in retraining as a gym instructor.

Lesley Garven, Blind Veterans UK Rustington centre manager, said: “After an initial phased opening, particularly ensuring that our small number of permanent residents were settled in, the building is now operating at full capacity, welcoming blind veterans from across the country for holidays, themed and activity weeks and for specific training and rehabilitation. 

“We had over 80 years of history at our Brighton centre but we’ve had such a warm welcome from the local community in Rustington that I know we’ll be making all new memories here.

“It was such an honour for our blind veterans and our new staff team here for our Royal patron to visit and formally open our new South Coast home.”