Happy Valleys - Keeping Welsh Veterans Upbeat In Lockdown

Happy Valleys - Keeping Welsh Veterans Upbeat In Lockdown

When many people think of Royal Navy communities in geographical terms, they only think of clusters of sailors, marines, veterans and naval families around the main UK base ports of Portsmouth, Plymouth and Faslane.

“Veteran Colin Williams receiving his device to help him stay connected.”

However, the communities we serve can be found across the length and breadth of the UK and across the world, and we consider it vital that all of them have the same access to the support and services we provide.

In 2020, the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity partnered with Woody’s Lodge, a remarkable charity comprising a group of UK Armed Forces veterans who provide specialist advice, camaraderie and places for veterans to meet, talk and reconnect with one another across Wales. Together with its funding partner, Greenwich Hospital, the RNRMC awarded £44,000 to the organisation to enable it to employ a dedicated RN/RN Project Officer and provide a range of initiatives and facilities designed to combat feelings of isolation among naval veterans in Wales.

Mark Hodgkinson, a veteran with a 25 year career in the Parachute Regiment and Household Division, has taken on the role. “Whilst serving I suffered from mental health challenges, but received support from my friends, colleagues and unit without judgment. Similarly, I experienced some difficult times during my transition to civvy street but was supported through them by a number of charities and organisations. I very much felt the need to put my experiences to good use. I believe in everything that Woody’s Lodge stands for and was thrilled to be offered the post of RNRMC Project Officer.”

Woody’s Lodge was founded in 2016 as an enduring tribute to Paul ‘Woody’ Woodland, a Royal Marine and member of the elite Special Boat Service who tragically lost his life in a training exercise in 2012, on the eve of returning to Afghanistan for his second tour of duty. Woody was born, bred and schooled in Penarth, South Wales, and had always wanted to be a Royal Marine. Once he completed his Armed Forces career, his dream had been to build a log cabin where he would be able to live with his family. peacefully and in safety. A mere four years after its foundation, the Woody’s Lodge team have created three such sanctuaries in North and South Wales offering military veterans and their families very special and welcoming places in which to reconnect and deal with mental and physical health challenges in an environment that provides support, care and friendship.

The organisation also helps tackle loneliness and isolation through social events and excursions. A proportion of the grant received from the RNRMC and Greenwich Hospital to provide fully accessible minibus transport. This has allowed 97 year old World War Two naval veteran Gerald Owen to get out of the house and the opportunity to meet and talk with fellow veterans, albeit at an appropriate social distance. Living alone and with no immediate family for support, Woody’s Lodge has provided an essential lifeline to Gerald as the nation locked down, with twice-weekly phone calls and regular food parcels to ensure that he didn’t go short or disappear from view.

Royal Navy veteran Gerald Owen pictured in his flying days.

A third element of the RNRMC’s funding package with Greenwich Hospital has been to assist Woody’s Lodge in keeping dispersed and rurally isolated veterans connected with one another through technology. Through the purchase of electronic tablets, Welsh veterans like Colin Williams have been given the ability to stay in touch with friends and family, even if they have been unable to meet up. Colin has been a regular attendee of Royal Marines Association meetings in Swansea for several years following his service as a Royal Marine in the 1960s and 1970s, but this came to an abrupt halt at the outset of the pandemic and he quickly found himself alone and not seeing other people from one week to the next. As well as allowing him to stay connected to the outside world, Colin is using his tablet to download large print books and listen to his favourite music.

If you are a Royal Navy veteran living in Wales who would benefit from expert advice and support as well as friendship and camaraderie from fellow veterans please call the Woody’s Lodge team on 01446 781792 (Monday – Thursday 10am – 3pm) or email support@woodyslodge.org.

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