AN army of volunteers has been recruited to help open a support centre for struggling ex-service personnel.
The former Nisa convenience store, in Seaside Lane, Easington Colliery, is being transformed into a “one-stop shop” for former members of the armed forces who are suffering problems such as poverty, homelessness and mental health issues.
Richie Fox, who runs charity Homeless Heroes, is overseeing the project, which is expected to be up and running within a month.
“It’s something we’ve been looking at doing for quite a while,” he said. “They can come in, meet other former soldiers who are struggling to fit back into society, and get the help and support they need.”
The £10,000 centre will include a cafe, communal area, secondhand clothes shop, launderette, computer facilities as well as a training room for budding plasterers.
There will also be a representative from the Military Mental Heath group based in the building.
Mr Fox, from Easington Colliery, spent six years in the Royal Artillery as a gunner and went on to become a businessman after leaving the Army at 22.
“We hope the centre will provide pretty much any help the ex-service personnel need,” he said.
“We will be able to provide support for people with drink and drug problems and financial, employment and housing issues.
“We have a team of volunteers who go out and raise funds for the group, holding collections and charity events.
“This project has been funded through their hard work and the generosity of the public.
“We can‘t thank them enough.”
Firefighter Scott Forward, 32, from Chester-le-Street, said he jumped at the opportunity to help with the refurbishment.
“I’ve had one of the homeless soldiers staying at my place for a while and I thought it would be a good idea to help with the centre,” he said. “I’ve been helping with the fire safety checks and I’ve done a bit of plastering on my days off, just helping out in any way I can.”
The crew manager, based at Seaham fire station, said he felt “passionately” about helping former soldiers who have fallen on hard times.
“It’s a big job working on the centre, but it is going to make a massive difference,” he added.
Last week, the Echo revealed how plans were underway to open a £250,000 centre for homeless war veterans in Sunderland.