The Bridge for Heroes hoping to build on success of King’s Lynn contact centre
A King's Lynn-based charity which offers support to serving troops, veterans and their families is hoping to secure funding of �600,000 to open new centres across the region.
The Bridge for Heroes opened the country's first dedicated town centre facility to offer emotional support for those at risk of suffering from post-traumatic stress in King's Lynn in May last year.
But the charity is now hoping to secure �300,000 from the Big Lottery Fund which could then be matched by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and enable The Bridge for Heroes to open more contact centres across East Anglia, including Norwich.
'It's been a year since we opened our first contact centre and we've had a positive start, helping 325 people,' said trustee Ken Ward. 'We've now got a plan in place to open 15 centres across the east in the next six years to help even more people.
'In terms of Norfolk, we would be looking at opening another centre over in Norwich because we've had quite a few people travelling from that side of the county to see us and our aim is to ensure people don't have to travel more than an hour-and-a- half to get to one of our centres.
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'We should find out any day now if we have got through the first round of Lottery funding which will enable us to go for the �300,000 and, if we secure this amount and the MOD matched funding, we can really kick on.'
Formed by Mike Taylor, who served in the Gulf, Northern Ireland and Bosnia, the charity hopes its vision for helping soldiers, veterans and their families across East Anglia could be replicated across the UK.
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The Lynn contact centre in South Clough Lane, near St James' car park, is open from 10am until 4pm, Tuesday to Saturday, and is also a small museum of British military history.
Mr Taylor said: '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 contact centre also has a shop which sells both donated secondhand goods and Bridge for Heroes merchandise and has the support of a large team of volunteers.
The centre was praised by former head of the British Army General Lord Richard Dannatt and West Norfolk mayor Colin Sampson when it was officially opened last June.
Mr Taylor said: '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.'
The charity has also 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.
The charity, which has an office in North Lynn and was set up last year, hopes 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 charity's slogan is: 'Wounds are not always visible.'
For more information, visit www.thebridgeforheroes.org