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Combat Stress veterans vow to fight on in battle to save Newport centre from cuts

By Mat Growcott | Newport | News | Published:

Further marches could be held to protest over cuts at a mental health charity Combat Stress, it has been revealed.

Last week more than 50 people marched through Newport's High Street in an effort to save residential treatment at Audley Court, on Audley Avenue.

Their protest came just weeks after it was revealed that residential treatment at the centre would be lost with staff being 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 could be supported more quickly”.

The ex-service personnel met with the charity's CEO Sue Freeth, and have now said that they may shift their targets to government and MOD buildings to protest the lack of funding that the charity gets.

Organisers behind the march are set to meet in the coming weeks to make their decision on what happens next.

They are also discussing raising money themselves in an effort to make up for some of the charity's £3.6 million deficit.

Pete Neale said they would keep on fighting

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Pete Neale, the person behind the Facebook group that organised the march, said they would keep on fighting.

"We're going to be meeting up in the next week or so to sort out who we march to first, the MOD or the government," he said.

"We are also going to start a GoFundMe page to try and raise funds for Audley Court."

In the time since the march, the 1,870-strong Save Audley Court Facebook group has been discussing contacting MPs and speaking with media around the UK.

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Veterans are also continuing to share their stories of why the charity is so important to them.

Rohan Wainwright, 45, joined the campaign to save Combat Stress because, he said, they gave him his life back.

He travelled from Worcester to join the march. Rohan, who served in Bosnia, was among the last to have residential treatment at Audley Court.

"Combat Stress gave me my life back," he said.

"The treatment isn't a quick fix, but they can help you cope with everything.

"My life was a mess. This was somewhere that listened."

Joining the veterans in their protest were some local people who came out to show their support.

Judy Kewswell, 72, lives in Newport and gave treatment massage at Combat Stress.

She said: “The men and girls I’ve met here have been phenomenal. I’ve seen people who couldn’t face me turn around and face the world six weeks later. To lose this facility is nothing less than a tragedy, else we’re going to lose precious lives.”

Eva Allen was mayor in Newport and has been visiting Audley Court for 20 years.

She said: “Newport is a town that when people come to live here they are accepted as part of the town. Combat Stress became part of Newport. It was supported well by all the charities in the town.

"Veterans need this togetherness, they need the group feeling. I don’t think people realise the break-up of so many homes because they’ve been serving their country and keeping us safe.”

Ms Freeth told veterans that the charity would listen to any suggestions they can come up with.

But, she said, it was crucial that the charity gets back in the black – otherwise it risks disappearing entirely.

Mat Growcott

By Mat Growcott
Trainee Multi-Media Journalist - @MGrowcott_Star

Shropshire Star reporter

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