Participants in a monthly breakfast club, held at the farm premises, said the center helped them adjust to life outside the forces, bridging the gap between a regimented life in the military and a very different existence on the civilian street.
“When I first came out of the army I found it very difficult,” said Tony Nelson, who joined the army at 15 and served in Borneo before leaving in 1969. had good friends in the army, and the civilians are not the same, so I found it very different. I wouldn’t mix, go anywhere, do anything – until that .
Mr Nelson said he initially had to be ‘dragged, kicked and shouted’ at the monthly hub meetings, but now comes in every month for a bacon sarnie, a hot brew and a chat around the campfire.
“It helps me because I can talk to people who have been through the same kind of things as me, whether it’s in Afghanistan or Iraq. I found that because we have this common experience, we can talk about things.
Since many members bring their families to monthly meetings, organizers say the veterans’ center has also helped former service members reconnect with loved ones.
“He’s so much more relaxed now, it’s like I got my dad back,” Tony Nelson’s daughter Lucy said.
“It’s so nice to see him come here and smile and make friends. But they’re not just there for the veterans, they’re there for the families too. I’m struggling with my mental health and Matt (the co-ordinator of the Veterans Hub) is there for me no matter what I messaged him God knows what time in the morning before and he is here.
For Matt Cole himself, this global approach is the key to the success of the Crossroads for Veterans. “If you’ve been away – whether it’s Afghanistan or Northern Ireland or whatever – when you come home you suddenly have to be father and husband again,” said Mr Cole, a veteran himself. “The families need as much help as the veterans because we are giving them hell when we come back.
The rave reviews are accompanied by plans to expand the veteran center with adventure training opportunities provided by the veterans themselves. Earlier this year the team spent £15,000 on equipment needed to run a range of activities, including a canoe, kayaks, paddle boards, mountain bikes and camping gear.
It is hoped that Adventure Training Weekends, which may soon be offered to members of the wider community, will give veterans and their families a chance to connect in the same way as the little ones club lunches.
Veterans will act as activity coordinators, organizing each adventure as it happens and leveraging their unique skills to make the experience as safe and exciting as possible. Not only will it provide that vital link between the military and family life described by Mr. Cole, but it is hoped that the setup will give service members the kind of structure they need after leaving the military.
To find out more about Crimsham Farm, which also runs enrichment programs for young people with special educational needs, visit crimsham-farm.co.uk