Veterans

British Ex-Forces In Business: Penny Melville-Brown

A champion of disabled workers, blind ex-Navy Commander Penny Melville-Brown is proof there is life after sight loss.

Above: Penny Melville-Brown with a friend she met on her Baking Blind cookery journey

“Very few people have real restrictions.”

The bold words of Penny Melville-Brown, Royal Navy veteran, and a finalist in this year’s British Ex-Forces In Business Awards.

In the 20 years since she lost her sight, Penny has battled to help others overcome their own disabilities and rediscover jobs they love.

Within two days of being medically discharged from service in 1999, the ex-Commander put her business acumen into practice by forming the building blocks for her company Disability Dynamics.

Penny said: “[I wanted to] try and change the employment opportunities for other disabled people, based on the difficulties I’d faced.

“It is staggering how many disabled people out there really want to work.

“They are bored sitting at home on benefits, their social life has shrunk to their front room, they are poor, they are depressed.

“And I don’t think employers really have any sense of this huge pool of people who would be so grateful for a job, have the skills to do jobs, and are going to be determined, loyal, motivated employees.”

Listen: From sailing to making waves in business, Penny tells her story so far

Penny is in the Inspiration Of The Year category at the second edition of the British Ex-Forces In Business Awards. 

The ceremony, taking place at the London Hilton on May 8, honours the achievements of veterans and new Forces leavers who are making a name for themselves in civilian jobs.

While it isn’t always straightforward to make the transition from serving to civvy street, many veterans are finding that their military training, precision and forward thinking lend themselves perfectly to entrepreneurial ventures.

On finding out she was shortlisted, along with nine others, for her accolade, Penny said:

“It means a huge amount to be one of the finalists.

“I wanted particularly to have me and some of the other disabled people being showcased at these awards.

“It’s so that people can understand that service people aren’t just these bright, fine, upstanding young men and women.

“There are also some of us who have received considerable injury or illness from our time in the service, but still have great attributes to offer to the business world.”

Penny's uniform, including the cane she used while still serving

Penny’s Naval career began in 1977, after a postgraduate teaching qualification convinced her she did not want to work in education.

Looking around for all manner of intriguing roles, she discounted publishing and advertising before plumping for the Women’s Royal Naval Service.

Eventually, she took the opportunity to become the Navy’s first female barrister.

But then it all went awry.

Penny continued: “I was doing my first legal job, and my sight started to deteriorate in my right eye.

“I was off sick for quite a long while, and when I went back, my left eye started deteriorating.

Penny Melville-Brown as a young Naval officer

“Although I was lucky enough to be promoted to Commander, after another a couple of jobs my eyesight had gone in both eyes.

“And I was really looking forward to the future with some horror, because I could see no job, no income, no mortgage, no home.

“I decided that I needed to use my new disability as a unique selling point, so I set myself up as a disability consultant.”

Besides helping people overcome their own personal hurdles, Penny has been getting creative in the kitchen too.

In 2017, after winning a competition in the United States, she used her prize money to set up Baking Blind.

WATCH: Penny begins her Baking Blind adventure
Video credit: Penny Melville-Brown

The initiative has taken her the world over, bringing the joy of cooking to people with disabilities.

She added: “Just because one has a disability, it doesn’t hold you back.

“You can travel, you can have a great time, and you can showcase that everybody has abilities.”

  • Penny Melville-Brown is a finalist in the Inspiration Of The Year category at the British Ex-Forces In Business Awards on May 8.
The British Ex-Forces in Business Awards are sponsored by CBRE, FDM Group, Kuehne + Nagel, Galliford Try, Lloyd's of London, the Officers' Association, NTT Data, Santander, Savills, Sopra Steria and Standard Life Aberdeen.
Other supporters include BFBS, Forces Recruitment Services, RFEA – The Forces Employment Charity, SaluteMyJob, the White Ensign Association and other media partners Quest Magazine and RealBusiness.co.uk.