A NEW military retreat to help veterans get back on their feet has opened – with hopes it will help end the worrying increase in suicides.
The innovative project by charity Forgotten Veterans, located at the historic Fort Cumberland, opened as planned yesterday after months of hard work from volunteers and organisers.
The grand opening was attended by MPs, council leaders and soldiers from the Regiment Royal Artillery, as well as the wife of a veteran who took his own life.
The project, launched in conjunction with Historic England, means veterans will be able to camp out at the fort to help their recovery.
The stunning location will have specially trained support staff on hand, the opportunity to share experiences with other like-minded individuals, as well as providing a strong network of support to fend off isolation and loneliness.
The centre will be made up of transformed casemates – fortified structures from which guns used to be fired – and will include a safe room, kitchen as well as communal area with pool tables, television, game stations and sofas.
The organisation seeks to help veterans in any way possible including issues such as debt management, housing, food problems, food and hardship vouchers. Veterans will also have access to specially trained mental health professionals.
But the retreat’s crowning glory is perhaps its ‘basher base’ – an outdoor camp area where veterans can come together around a fire and share stories.
Forgotten Veterans founder Gary Weaving, who has plunged himself into £17,500 worth off debt to bring the centre to life, said: ‘It means so much to me, the people who have put their all into this project and the families of the deceased. It’s such a great turnout to pay respect to them and this project.
‘Nearly 30 people have worked for me for not a single penny over the last three years. Everything we have raised has gone back to the veteran community.
‘We are raising an army for the forgotten and unfortunately a lot feel forgotten. Since Christmas there have been 61 veterans who have taken their own life. It’s tragic, we’ve taken our eye off the ball. We are great at remembering the dead but I think we need to start helping the living.’
Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire Nigel Atkinson said: ‘It’s a wonderful retreat. The sheer numbers of the people here for the launch is a credit to those involved.’