Historic Burnley building chosen as base for flagship project that will reach out to hundreds of ex veterans across Lancashire
They seem to be the 'forgotten' generation, serving Queen and country but then left to fend for themselves with no job, no home and it seems, in many cases, no hope.
Andrew Powell, an ex-soldier himself, is working to change that and is preparing to launch Healthier Heroes in one of Burnley's most historic buildings. What once served as the original town hall in Elizabeth Street is being transformed into a hub for veterans and their families to help take them on the journey from rock bottom to getting back on their feet
Healthier Heroes, which has the mantra 'Unite as one, inspire each other, believe anything is possible' was established in Wigan two years ago but Andrew always hoped he could bring the project to his hometown. Now that dream has come true and the Healthier Heroes will be the flagship for the project that will reach out to ex soldiers across the county.
Andrew said: "This is such a massive step forward for this project.
"The aim is to provide 24 hour support on different levels for ex veterans. We will be here to support them with their mental and physical health and help them to move forward with their lives."
Healthier Heroes will operate on a two tier system with the first one being complete support for the veterans to help them face their issues and deal with any drug related problems and addictions they may have. They will receive intensive and professional help and counselling.
Then they can move to the second tier where they can live independently within the project, managing their own living space, learn how to cook and budget and also look at finding employment or go into re-training.
There could be no-one better than Andrew to lead this project as he himself joined the army at 16 and became a colour sergeant. When he left he struggled to find a job and then faced the breakdown of his marriage.
He said: "I don't mind admitting I was in a bad place and it took a long time for me to get back on the right path.
"In the army absolutely you are told what to do and how to live so when you leave it is a major shock, you lose your own identity in a way."
The need is so great that last year the Ministry of Defence introduced a 24 hour helpline for former service personnel who may need assistance with health, housing and money problems. The British Legion has estimated that there are currently about 6,000 homeless veterans in the UK.
Andrew has travelled the world on tours and has responsibility for protecting diplomats and celebrities as a bodyguard.
Since Healthier Heroes, a community interest not for profit company, was launched it has helped 200 veterans and their families and Andrew wants to extend that even further to the whole of Lancashire.
Already in the space of a few months, Andrew and his team have been inundated with offers of support from across Lancashire in may different ways. They are already currently working with 23 veterans in Lancashire providing them with different levels of support.
If the centre was already open they would have been able to house 10 veterans in such a short space of time of announcing the support that is available. This includes those veterans that are leaving the criminal justice system.
As their programmes aim to reduce reoffending rates they will be able to offer them a safe and secure place to live and a purpose in life once more.
Andrew said: "At Healthier Heroes we plan to open a cafe and drop in centre that will be open to the community and it will be run by people from within the project.
"It is a perfect way to get the community engaged to see what we are doing and meet these people from the armed forces and find out who they are and see their journey back into the outside world."
Andrew is also appealing for businesses and companies within the local community to support Healthier Heroes through what is called corporate social responsibility.
He added: "Like any charity we rely heavily on donations.
" All donations will go a long way to ensure a veteran is housed and supported throughout their journey to allow them to live fulfilled lives once more."
Healthier Heroes have been working with a company called Bridgehead Homes, a North West property investor and developer and also a provider of homes for the supported living and social housing sector.
Aware of the need for quality housing within the supported living sector, directors Sian Clark and Keith Hancock have purchased the building using funds from SSAS pension schemes, and it is currently under renovation. With its rich history and heritage the imposing building even used to house a swimming pool on the ground floor!
Sian said: "This project will have a huge impact on the lives of the veteran community and their families.
"We are so proud to be a part of this phenomenal venture. The vision, passion and dedication the team have is truly inspirational, they are going to create such a difference to those in need of their support."
If you would like to hear more about how you can help please email [email protected]