BATTLE-SCARRED war veterans are to benefit from a major new support centre on Wearside.
The Veterans’ Centre will help the scores of struggling ex-servicemen settle back into civilian life.
At a cost of £250,000, it will offer a much-needed lifeline to a hidden army of veterans who have slipped through the support net and ended up on the streets or ‘sofa surfing’, suffering problems with drugs, alcohol and mental ill-health.
It will also help up to 70 people through its out-reach programme.
Lesley Clark, director of development and communications with charity Norcare, which is spearheading the project, said she hopes to open the seven-bed centre in the coming months.
“Although we have not chosen a site for the centre, we are looking at several possible locations for it,” she said.
“Sunderland is an area which has a great need for a facility of this kind, so we hope to get it up and running as soon as possible.
“We know that there are a lot of people who need help, who need support, who just aren’t getting it at the minute.”
Norcare, a North East organisation which has been helping some of the region’s most vulnerable people since 1984, has already opened a centre in Newcastle.
“Currently, we are dealing with members of the Armed Forces who served in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and the first Gulf War,” said Lesley.
“We have yet to see the effects of Afghanistan, it takes a while for them to filter through, but the number who are experiencing problems is only going to increase.
“We also expect to see more women coming to us for help.”
Manager Phil Thompson, who served as a major in the Royal Anglian Regiment, said the centre had been a big success since it opened last year.
The terraced house has en-suite residential rooms as well as outreach facilities providing veterans with a range of support services including access to counselling and family liaison services, accommodation and specialist services including drug and alcohol rehabilitation.
The Wearside centre would be based on this model.
Resident Hugh Gallon, 37, said his life spiralled out of control after leaving the 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.
Left homeless, the former soldier developed drink and drug problems before serving a prison sentence for robbery.
“The centre has helped me out in a big way,” said Hugh. “As soon as I heard about it, I got in touch with them. They helped me get my life sorted out, I started a college course and now I want to study psychology and counselling.
“Hopefully, I can help out other veterans who have drink and drug problems.”
Sunderland councillor Graham Hall, an ex-serviceman, said he was impressed by the centre and hoped its success could be repeated on Wearside.
Coun Hall, who first visited the centre as a member of the regional scrutiny committee, said our service personnel deserve tremendous respect for their work on our behalf and it was essential we support them when they return home.
“It works well here,” he said. “It is something I’ve been taking an interest in for some time. It is run by people who are ex-members of the Armed Forces, who are aware of the problems that service men and women can experience, and how best to help them.”
Fundraising is now underway to help open the Sunderland centre.
For more information or to make a donation , visit www.norecare.co.uk.