Ex-paratrooper praises ‘wonderful’ Linburn Centre after stroke

Peter Conaghan has taken up painting again after time at the Linburn Centre
Peter Conaghan has taken up painting again after time at the Linburn Centre
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Despite launching himself out of aeroplanes at 10,000ft as a paratrooper for the British Army, Peter Conaghan doesn’t consider himself brave.

His 22-year military career took him to places including Sierra Leone and the Balkans, where he picked up enough of the local tongue that he was asked to help to breach the ­language barrier.

It was exciting, but bravery, for him, didn’t come into it. He said: “I would never ask my men to do anything I couldn’t or wouldn’t do myself. I did my level best to lead from the front. It’s the only way to fly.”

In 2016, Peter, 53, suffered a stroke at work that left him partially sighted. He can remember sinking down on to one leg and thinking, “What’s happening here?”.

A life-changing stroke was happening: one that would see him lose his business and most of his sight. Six months later a seizure meant that he needed to rely on round-the clock care. But he isn’t angry or bitter – he’s incredibly positive, and he credits the Linburn Centre in West Lothian for that.

Celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, the centre is run by charity organisation Scottish War Blinded and helps veterans with sight loss by providing practical support and a wide range of leisure activities, helping them gain new skills.

Archery, acoustic shooting, cooking, exercise classes and art are just some of the activities available, and it’s those and the centre’s camaraderie that Peter hails as life-changing.

“I thought I was dead. The Linburn has breathed life into me. It has shown me that despite disability, you can reach out and achieve things. And that speaks volumes about the people here.”

In his younger years, Peter grabbed the chance to train with champion distance runner Lawrie Spence after watching him run in the Ayrshire village they both lived.

Peter said that at 17, he “couldn’t even run a bath” but only six months and a birthday later he was competing in the 1983 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Gateshead. He ranked 64th in the world, and second in the Scottish team.

“I’ve always been determined. The other runners were talented but I think determination is a kind of talent.”

He hung up his running shoes in 1985 when his daughter Laura was born. Now 23, she’s a student and his carer, but more importantly she is his inspiration and motivation.

It was Laura who found the Linburn Centre and helped her dad access the site, where he now lives in an eco-home. He couldn’t lift his paralysed arm when he first came, but now can hold it above his head and even play tennis.

The world became a different place after his stroke, he said. “Imagine someone comes along and pulls out all the files and throws them around. That’s what it’s like. I’ve got the will but the Linburn has given me the tools and pointed me in the right direction.”

He has taking up painting again thanks to the centre and is philosophical about his experience. “I would never be in such a wonderful place with such wonderful people if it hadn’t happened,” he said.