The aim of the Heanor Veterans Project is to provide ex-service personnel and their families with support to re-integrate into the community following their time serving their country.
Led by the Gamelea Countryside Training Trust, the project is supported by housing provider Futures Homescape as part of its provision of homeless and housing advice on behalf of Amber Valley Borough Council.
As well as proving employment opportunities for those returning to civilian life, the café also hosts drop-in advice sessions and enables those using it to meet people facing similar situations to their own. The café, which is the first of its kind in Amber Valley, will invest any profits back into the project.
Those attending the official opening included Derbyshire County Councillor Kevin Parkinson, cabinet member for regeneration, and the Mayor of Amber Valley, Ron Ashton.Guests enjoyed specially crafted canapés by former ‘I’m a Celebrity…’ contestant, ‘Britain’s Best Dish’ judge and Michelin-Star chef John Burton-Race.
The café is part of a wider initiative to ensure the needs of ex-service personnel are met. With research highlighting that those who have served in the Armed Forces are at a higher risk of becoming homeless, The Gamelea Countryside Training Trust together with Futures Homescape and Derbyshire County Council have formed a partnership to address employment, training, finance and health needs.
Visitors to the café will be able to talk through their experiences with like-minded veterans, like volunteer George Lefevre, who served as corporal instructor on the Vickers medium machine guns while posted in Germany 1951-53, and as section commander on patrol in the jungle in Malaya, 1954-57.
He said: “My wife told me about the café after hearing it on the radio.You can’t do enough for ex-services especially given what youngsters are going through today, so I came down and asked if they needed a hand.
“I’m happy to talk to anyone who wants a chat.If you want to deal with combat stress you need to talk about your experiences – it gets it out of you.I went to a regiment reunion last weekend.We talked about the past and I came away laughing – reminiscing with people who understand that makes you feel better.”
Elizabeth Hill, founder of Gamelea Countryside Training Trust, said: “The café is right on the high street, taking a fresh approach to signposting therapy and support for ex-service men and women and helping to change perceptions of the British Legion as just being for older veterans.
“Lots of ex-service people have problems and need help to tackle them.The café offers those people a place to come and feel camaraderie with others who understand their background.
“We’ve had a wonderfully positive reaction from local people and we have seen how the café is bringing people together as a community, whether they are ex-services or not.”
In January the project is due to open new accommodation specifically tailored for ex-service personnel. Leased from Derbyshire Country Council, the property has benefitted from improvements made by Futures Homescape contractors.
Sara Parkin, housing advice manager at Futures Homescape, said: “We are delighted at the interest in the project, and also that the project will be able to help veterans find employment. We know there is a gap nationally in the support available to those returning to civilian life, and our partnership will go along way to ensuring local people coming back to this community are welcomed.
“The café’s location on the high street will also help re-invigorate Heanor High Street, therefore also benefiting people outside of army life.”
After witnessing the ribbon cutting, John Burton-Race commented: “I’m absolutely committed and proud to be able to support Café Heroes. It’s not just a place to drop-in for a coffee but a place that offers real support to ex-service people and their families.”