Bid to open pioneering rural retreat at Kelling Hospital to help veterans with post traumatic stress disorder

Jonathan Brackenbury at the proposed site for the Norfolk Veterans Retreat at Kelling Hospital.
PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY Jonathan Brackenbury at the proposed site for the Norfolk Veterans Retreat at Kelling Hospital. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Tuesday, June 17, 2014
8:45 AM

Part of north Norfolk’s iconic landscape could be the base for a pioneering centre to help war veterans battling with the trauma of conflict.

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What is post traumatic stress disorder?

• Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events.

• Cases of PTSD were first documented during the First World War when soldiers developed shell shock as a result of the harrowing conditions in the trenches.

• It is believed many of the 306 British and Commonwealth soldiers executed on the western front during the war for cowardice on August 14 1914 were suffering with PTSD.

• The condition was not officially recognised as a mental health condition until 1980, when it was included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, developed by the American Psychiatric Association.

• Anxiety attacks can be triggered by everyday smells, sounds and observations and they can happen immediately after a serviceman comes out of conflict or several years after.

• For advice visit www.combatstress.org.uk

People behind the Norfolk Veterans Retreat Project, made up of former servicemen, hope to open Britain’s first site for veterans with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on land at Kelling Hospital, near Holt.

The rural retreat, made up of six eco lodges across 1.6 hectares, would cost £500,000 to run for 10 years and could potentially help 3,000 people in that time.

If MOD funding and a 25-year peppercorn lease by the Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust were granted, the base would be open to any veteran, of any age, from any rank or service across Britain.

Project chairman Jonathon Brackenbury, 60, from Edmund Bacon Court, Norwich, said: “A lot of PTSD sufferers end up on the streets, in the criminal justice system or killing themselves. If we can provide a little retreat for people it may raise the profile for PTSD in general and make the government realise this is a growing problem.”

Andi Osborne is running the Bungay Marathon to raise money for Combat Stress after her brother Andrew Stillwell-Cox (pictured) committed suicide after suffering from the illness. PHOTO: submittedAndi Osborne is running the Bungay Marathon to raise money for Combat Stress after her brother Andrew Stillwell-Cox (pictured) committed suicide after suffering from the illness. PHOTO: submitted

Mr Brackenbury, an aircraft engineer in the RAF from 1969-1979, has suffered with the disorder for 44 years.

He described people with the condition as the “invisible wounded” and thought support for veterans with PTSD was underfunded.

“There is nowhere near enough PTSD support for people in Norfolk,” Mr Brackenbury added.

Because of the condition he does not like going into crowded public spaces and the disorder can be triggered by simple sounds.

Hospital history

• Kelling Hospital was built in 1903 and originally known as the Hospital for the Working Man.

• It was constructed as a tuberculosis centre for working men and had outside huts where TB sufferers were left in the open air to be treated.

• The proposed rural retreat will be on the site where the wooden huts used to be, and where some remain.

• Queen Mary was the patron of the hospital and the TB centre was closed in the 1960s, following the introduction of a drug.

• There used to be two wards at Kelling Hospital - the 22-bed Lascelles specialist neurological ward - and Pineheath Ward.

• The Lascelles Ward shut in October 2007 after health chiefs said it needed major investment.

• The 24-bed Pineheath Ward remains open and enables patients to receive care from nurses, therapists and support staff.

• Kelling Hospital currently acts as place for recuperative and palliative care.

• Current outpatient services include physiotherapy, neurology, leg ulcer care and speech and language therapy.

Mr Brackenbury first came to terms with PTSD after seeing an ex-army psychiatrist at Kelling Hospital in 2007.

If the retreat was opened veterans would have to be referred by a doctor and could stay up to 10 days at the “peaceful” centre. It would link up with Combat Stress, be based around peer support and offer advice on where to get help, among other aspects.

It is hoped similar rural retreats will be opened around the country.

Search Norfolk Veterans Retreat on Facebook.

The entrance to Kelling Sanatorium in the 1900s.The entrance to Kelling Sanatorium in the 1900s.

What do you think about the project? Email sophie.wyllie@archant.co.uk

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