Help for traumatised Norfolk soldiers

Norfolk is set to be thrust on to the front line in helping servicemen and women and veterans take their first steps in tackling post-traumatic stress.

Army veteran Mike Taylor and his charity The Bridge for Heroes has opened the country's first dedicated town centre facility to offer emotional support for those at risk of suffering from the disorder in King's Lynn.

Mr Taylor also wants to open centres in Hunstanton and Cromer as well as hotels in the two coastal towns to give serving and former troops and their families a free holiday by 2014.

The veteran, who served in the Gulf, Northern Ireland and Bosnia, said: 'Service personnel can drop into our new centre for a free tea or coffee, to chat to others and to access a range of support services and people trained to listen to the issues they face.

'Such is the concern growing nationally about the extent of post-traumatic stress among service personnel and veterans that there is pressure to use the Lynn initiative as a blueprint to establish centres all over the country.

'We also want to establish respite centres where servicemen from all over the country can try to recuperate and recover from their mental scars.'

Mr Taylor said the charity had planned to open the new facility in South Clough Lane, near St James' car park, at the end of the year.

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But he said: 'The need for this type of centre was so great we opened 10 days ago.

'We have been taking it day by day and we are still putting things into place but already we have had 30 people come along here.

'I set out thinking that to start off with if we only helped one person a month that would suit me but to get so many people so early on has been fantastic.'

The charity has already made links with Combat Stress, which delivers dedicated treatment and support to ex-servicemen and women with post-traumatic stress disorder, and SSAFA, the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association.

Mr Taylor continued: 'Being based just off the high street has proven, and will continue to be, crucial in making a difference to the quality of life of our veterans, homecoming operational troops and their families.

'So far, we have had so many varied tales from widows and retired service personnel and have had people coming in who fought in the second world war, Burma, Korea, the Falklands and the Gulf.

'I think being able to share their stories is really going to help current and retired service personnel as well as being a cry for help.'

The drop-in centre also operates as a charity shop and as a small museum of British military history, and a team of 40 volunteers have signed up to help run the facility.

Mr Taylor continued: 'When I returned from active operations in Bosnia I would have liked this kind of support. I was stressed and felt alone.

'I was proud to serve Queen and country but the horrors of war got to me. I also served in the first Gulf war when a good friend and comrade was killed.

'Losing comrades in battle – you just don't have time to grieve. Then you get back home and everything just carries on and you don't deal with the grief. I suppose I should have looked for some kind of bereavement counselling.'

Mr Taylor added he also wants to open a base in Lynn by 2014 which will take end-of-line stock from national chain stores and sell them in one of the charity's centres.

The opening of the centre has been welcomed by the former head of the British Army, General Lord Richard Dannatt.

He said: 'A permanent point of contact will be very valuable to those who are looking for emotional and practical support as a consequence of military operations and service.

'I am sure that The Bridge for Heroes will be working very closely with The Royal British Legion, Combat Stress and the other service charities as well as the local authorities. I wish the project well.'

The slogan of the charity, which was set up last year, reads simply: 'Wounds are not always visible.'

For more information about the charity, visit www.thebridgeforheroes.org