Advertising

Combat Stress: Veterans march in Newport over charity cuts - with video

By Mat Growcott | Newport | Health | Published:

About 50 veterans marched through the streets of Newport in protest at cuts being made at a mental health charity.

People clapped and cheered as the group moved through the town's High Street towards Combat Stress's Audley Court treatment centre.

Some travelled hundreds of miles to attend the protest at the centre on Friday, which many of them said had been the difference between life and death for them.

Their protest came just weeks after it was revealed that residential treatment at the centre will be lost, and that staff will be made redundant.

The decision was part of a five-year restructuring plan which, the charity said, would “offer greater flexibility and accessibility to treatment so veterans can be supported more quickly”.

It is also a move to get control of the charity's finances. Documents filed with the Charity Commission showed that Combat Stress had a deficit of £3.6m in the financial year ending March 31, 2016, generating £13m and spending £16.6m.

CEO Sue Freeth said it was vital to find a way to operate within their means, else risk the charity disappearing entirely.

Organiser of the march Pete Neale, 42, said that his meeting with Ms Freeth was positive, although they were still unclear on some of the charity's plans.

Advertising

"We're all feeling we can make a change," the father-of-six said. "There has been a lot of support from veterans.

"How can they guarantee the safety of a veteran at home if they're calling in over Skype or visiting on an outpatient basis? Inside you've got the therapist, you've got the staff on hand, you've got other veterans. At home we don't have any of that.

"There were positives and negatives from our meeting with Sue. I'm hoping what we've done today has opened her eyes a bit, so she'll go back to the directors and say that we'll keep on fighting to save Audley Court."

David Hamilton, 70, was one of the veterans who had travelled to Newport. He travelled from Rotherham in South Yorkshire and has frequently stayed at Audley Court. He said he had fought his demons for nearly 50 years before he finally found Combat Stress.

Advertising

"All these years nobody understood what I was going through," he said. "I cracked up completely three years ago. When I came to Audley Court, all I did was cry for two weeks because somebody understood me. If I didn't have Combat Stress I'd have committed suicide. I can live with my ups and downs now.

"If I were to come here for one day it wouldn't work. It takes me three hours to drive here and three hours to drive back. How can you talk about your demons and then just go home?"

Vic Wiles, 56, has been coming to Combat Stress for around 20 years. The Walsall man served in Northern Ireland, and when he first arrived at the treatment centre was sat alongside veterans of World War One.

He had had some trouble with violent behaviour, and said Combat Stress had turned him around.

"When I first came it was respite care. It felt like an old people's home with young people in it," he said.

"I remember saying to one of the older blokes 'I feel a bit ashamed sitting next to you', and he said 'I'd rather have done my job than yours'. We all mucked in together.

"We all try and look after each other. You don't know when this beast will grab hold of you and wreck your life. I lost mates, I was there when I lost them. I was paid for the job, I didn't mind doing it, now we just need the support afterwards.

"I've been here 30 times in 20 years. Now they want me to travel here by train, in my wheelchair? It's mad."

Ms Freeth said: "We need to be sustainable. If we keep running services we can't afford, we won't exist at all.

"Our plans are about supporting the individual, assessing them quickly and getting them the right expertise.

"There wasn't one person in our meeting whose journey wasn't dreadful. They recognise there's a part they can play in raising awareness. They've made suggestions about what we might be able to do, and we're certainly willing to look at how we can create a feeling of the centre being there to support them as and when. We feel there's a logic to what we're proposing but we're open to new ideas.

"We do need to get back in the black, because if we don't then we won't be sustainable. That would be a terrible disaster."

Mat Growcott

By Mat Growcott
Reporter - @MGrowcott_Star

Shropshire Star reporter

Advertising

Top stories

Advertising

More from Shropshire Star

UK & International News