‘It’s the first time I felt like people cared’ - former Norfolk soldier hails Help For Heroes recovery centre
08:39 22 April 2014
© Archant Norfolk 2014
What happens to wounded soldiers after they leave hospital? The next step for many is to undertake recovery at a Help For Heroes recovery centre, reports Sam Russell.
There used to be horror stories about injured soldiers returning from war.
Taken from the battlefield with missing limbs, treated in hospital, given a rehab course then dropped at home and forgotten about.
But Steve Schollar, manager of the region’s Help For Heroes recovery centre, insists that these days that is far from the truth.
The £6.5m Chavasse VC Recovery Centre was built in Colchester in 2012, and aims to provide the third stage of recovery for wounded servicemen and women – after surgery at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham and rehab somewhere like Headley Court.
What facilities are there?
Chavasse VC Recovery Centre was built in 2012 using £6.5m of Help For Heroes cash.
Its £1.1m annual running costs are footed by the Royal British Legion (RBL), together with other charities.
The centre has 29 single bedrooms, two family suites and space for 30 day visitors.
It is designed to help servicemen and women to learn skills for a civilian life, and to socialise with one another.
There are classrooms to teach CV writing and healthy lifestyles, lounge space containing a drum kit and pool table and a canteen.
A special gym is filled with adaptive equipment for use with wheelchairs, and staff hope to help injured soldiers achieve success as Paralympians.
In the area for people staying overnight there are three wheelchair-adaptive kitchens and interview rooms.
Outside the centre is garden space, and some people at the centre are working on a Chelsea Flower Show entry called Hope on the Horizon.
It is the brainchild of a gardener whose brother was serving in Afghanistan.
There is a H4H team of 15 people on site providing round the clock cover, including welfare,
management and security.
The Ministry of Defence funds four military staff and one civil servant on site.
Its running costs are footed by charities, and there is a close working partnership with the Ministry of Defence (MOD) so the centre is geared towards the needs of people still serving in the Armed Forces.
Major Rob Thomas, officer commanding Colchester personnel recovery centre, makes no bones about describing the severity of cases seen.
“You might have been blown up in Afghanistan, had a motorbike crash or a stroke,” he said. “We take them all.
“They come here to undertake recovery activities.
“First of all we want them to be back on duty, but if we can’t do that – and in the majority of cases here we can’t – we want to transfer them to a successful civilian life.
“The recovery starts as soon as possible after a person is wounded or sick – as soon as they’re clinically stable,” he said. “We work on the worst case scenario, which is a young early 20s man or woman who has lost a limb or limbs.
“With medical advances that have kept them alive they face another 60 to 70 years in that situation.
“We’re providing up to 70 years of support.
“We have to tap into the British psyche for that support.”
He said of the previous system, where support was given at home: “That worked OK until we started getting casualties, so the MOD brought in these recovery centres.
“We can exercise our duty of care much better and it’s proved to be a huge success.”
Mr Schollar said: “You will have heard stories about people staying at home for two years, but that’s no longer the case.
“We are privileged to do this as these guys and girls have done so much.
“It’s a very effective use of that money and seeing a young man or woman coming in at the beginning of a week, head down and anxious, and at the end of the week when they’re two inches taller, talking to you and engaging about the future is great.
“It’s fair to say that’s the case with 99 per cent of individuals.”
He said the idea is that people receive help and then move on.
“We’ve learnt that the longer people stay, the more they rely – it’s not a residential home.”
Mr Schollar said word is getting out about the centre, which serves as a single point of contact, and people are referred in many ways – from the Help For Heroes Band of Brothers and Band of Sisters networks, from a doctor, mental health trust, a relative or partner phoning up or even a walk in.
The MOD has five staff at the centre, but did not contribute towards the cost of the building or the annual running costs.
And Maj Thomas makes no
apologies for this.
“I think it’s reality,” he said. “Government can’t do everything for everybody.
“It’s across schools and all areas, and charities have a very long and honourable tradition of supporting the military.
“I think society has a part to play in serving its servicemen.
“You can argue it’s not right, but I think it’s right.”
He said the recovery centre has the tools in place to support servicemen and women past and present in the coming years.
“The challenge for us now is to demonstrate more effectively to the public what we’ve done with their money,” he added. “And I think we will see that more over the next 18 months.”
“It’s the first time I felt like people cared” - wounded former soldier
Former Light Dragoon Simon Taylor felt the people supposedly helping him only cared about ticking boxes – until he visited the region’s Help For Heroes recovery centre.
The 31-year-old, of Brailsford Close, Dereham, broke nearly every bone in his body after his vehicle hit a roadside bomb in 2009 on a tour of Afghanistan.
He has since had the lower half of his right leg amputated.
The driver Lance Corporal Richard Brandon, died in the blast which threw Mr Taylor out of the vehicle.
Mr Taylor has come along way on the road to regaining full independence, and has started a pathfinder course at the recovery centre to help him.
He said attending the centre should help him realise his potential – and do things he is passionate about
A mentor is working with him to help him secure an outdoor job, ideally linked to mountain biking.
“It’s the first time I felt like people cared just about me and what I wanted to do rather than just ticking a box,” said Mr Taylor. “Some things are generic as they have to be, but they focus on the individual and what they want to do.
“It opens your eyes a little bit.”
He said staff at the centre inspired him by reflecting on his achievements in a military setting.
His mentor will then help him with interview techniques for the transition to a civilian job.
“One of my passions is mountain biking, and I’ve always loved the outdoors, so I’m looking to work on the national citizenship scheme or with the Prince’s Trust,” he said. “I think personally, as someone who has been through a bit of an ordeal, I can use that.
“It’s not all negative and I can help other people.”
As well as practical skills, he has found friends at the centre and went to their Christmas party.
“Stuff like that is nice and it feels like you’re involved,” he said.
What does the centre do?
The Help For Heroes centre to help injured servicemen and women in East Anglia is based in Colchester.
It is called Chavasse VC Recovery Centre, and takes its name from Captain Noel Chavasse – a First World War medical doctor who was twice awarded the Victoria Cross.
It aims to help people who have sustained serious injuries, physical and mental, as a result of military service.
Once servicemen and women have been treated in hospital and had rehab, the centre is there to help.
Its motto is ‘inspire, enable, support’.
Staff aim to give people confidence and help them towards a career and a happy family life.
There is no set course and visitors are treated as individuals, but the type of issues people are helped with include housing, employment, health, family and finances.
Stays range from a few days to four weeks, aiming to stop visitors from over relying on the centre.
But staff said people are always welcome for day visits.
People from the Army, Navy and RAF have visited, including servicemen and women from the Royal Anglian Regiment, Swanton Morley, RAF Honington and RAF Marham.
Around 700 people have visited Chavasse house since it opened, totalling more than 3,000 individual visits.
This year 94 per cent of visitors were still in serving in the Armed Forces, but 6 per cent were veterans.
Bosses said when the centre opened 99 per cent of visitors were current servicemen and women.