Gosport's new military support group Ravens Halls is transforming the lives of traumatised veterans

TRAUMATISED veterans rescued from the brink of emotional collapse by a new military support group have demanded more action from the government.

By Tom Cotterill
Tuesday, 11th January 2022, 4:55 am

War heroes, who have faced a life of misery after dedicating themselves to serve the nation, are calling on Whitehall to stump up more cash for grassroots armed forces groups.

It comes after a new support network, Ravens Halls, was launched in Gosport to help turn the lives of former servicemen and women around.

For the past four months, the organisation has proved a lifeline to more than a dozen veterans across the area.

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Regimental colours with Paula Hinkley (57), Nigel Kendall (51), founder Kris Darling (43) and Reggie Slapka (7) and dad James Slapka (38). Picture: Mike Cooter (111221)

Operating from its base in The Henry Cook Centre, in South Street, the group meets weekly to offer veterans a ‘non-judgmental’ space where war heroes can express themselves and support one another.

Veteran Kris Darling founded the group after almost dying waiting for support, having been left an emotional wreck following his 13-year career in the British Army.

The former tank driver served with the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards between 1995 and 2004 and the Royal Wessex Yeomanry from 2008 to 2011, deploying to Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The 43-year-old said: ‘There needs to be a total reshuffle when it comes to the support for veterans. They’re leaving us too long for treatment – 12 to 14 weeks is what most are waiting for.

Ravens Halls founder Kris Darling (43) with his medals. Picture: Mike Cooter (111221)

‘I nearly died twice in that 12 to 14 weeks when I asked for help… Something major needs to be done soon.’

Among the veterans being supported by Ravens Halls is retired Private Darren Barnett, who attends the group’s sessions on Mondays.

The 38-year-old of Somerstown was a former combat infantryman with the 1st Battalion Kings Own Scottish Borderers, having joined the army at 17.

But after six years of service, he was medically discharged with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Ravens Halls members Nigel Kendall (51), founder Kris Darling (43) and Paula Hinkley (57). Picture: Mike Cooter (111221)

The upheaval sent the former Scotsman on a destructive spiral of alcohol abuse that almost cost him everything.

Speaking to The News for the first time, Darren said: ‘I went through a very difficult period of alcohol abuse and a crazy mental state. After that, I made the hard decision for myself to move away from my family.

‘I love my family greatly but I couldn’t engage with them on a level that they could understand, which was frustrating me more. I was then turning to alcohol just to suppress what I was feeling.

‘But inadvertently I was damaging myself and damaging my relationship with that side of the family. I could see the pain in their eyes, knowing they couldn’t help.

Among the veterans being supported by Ravens Halls is retired Private Darren Barnett, 38 of Somerstown, who attends the group’s sessions on Mondays.

‘So I had to make the tough decision to move away. I just had to do it.’

Darren said since finding Ravens Halls, his life had been turned around and was full of praise for the group.

Speaking of his military service, he added ‘As a soldier you go on operations where you can’t switch off; I was constantly on the alert, constantly looking for the next threat and constantly worried. It gets to you.

‘On operations you can potentially come across things that you shouldn’t see as a human being.

‘And as a young soldier, at the age of 18, war was glorified. But it was the aftermath of what that’s done.

‘This is where the government should step up; local councils should step up - it’s little independent charities like this that really do matter and really are making the difference. They deserve more support.’

Veteran Nigel Kendall, formerly of the King's Royal Hussars tank regiment, agreed. The 51-year-old from Gosport has been with Ravens Halls since ‘day one’ and said: ‘They have helped me immensely.’

He added many who leave the military struggle to readjust to civilian life.

‘I still feel lost, having left the military,’ he said. ‘I’m not used to it.

‘[After leaving the military] I had 148 jobs in two years. I just couldn’t adjust to the different mentality in a civilian workplace.

‘In the military, you get up and you go and get the job done, no matter how long it takes. You stop once it’s finished. There really isn’t the same attitude in the civilian workplace.’

Paula Hinkley, who is part of the support team running Ravens Halls, hopes to expand the support group this year.

She feared there were still more veterans out there who weren’t getting the support they deserve.

The 57-year-old said: ‘The help is just not there. It’s just not there. It needs to change. These guys are suffering enough behind closed doors.

‘These guys are shut in rooms and they don’t want to talk to people. They don’t trust anybody.

‘There could be such a fantastic network out there for these guys if only they would work together.’

Last year, prime minster Boris Johnson pledged to pump in an additional £5m to support armed forces charities.

The additional funding will help to increase capacity in mental health charities and improve the support on offer to military heroes.

Leo Docherty, minister for defence people and veterans, said: ‘This targeted increase in funding to charities, both large and small, will allow those who served to receive a gold standard of care across the board.

‘We are forever grateful to the serving personnel and veterans who aided the people of Afghanistan, and will ensure they get the support they need and deserve in the most accessible methods possible.’

Ravens Halls meets every Monday evening, 7.45 to 9.15pm. For details, call 07706 977520 or email [email protected]