Northern Ireland veterans charity Beyond the Battlefield opens veterans centre in Portavogie - open to all security force and blue light veterans from UK and Republic of Ireland

Veterans from across Northern Ireland have attended the opening of a new rest and respite centre on the Ards peninsula.
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The Harbour House in Portavogie was launched by Ards veterans charity Beyond the Battlefield on Wednesday 30 November.

It has been a long labour of love, sweat and tears for Chairman Robert McCartney to bring to fruition.

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Robert, a military PTSD survivor who is now a professional counsellor, had noted that Northern Ireland has long been left behind GB, which has multiple such residential centres.

Just some of the guests who attended for the opening of the new veterans centre in Portavogie Harbour House.Just some of the guests who attended for the opening of the new veterans centre in Portavogie Harbour House.
Just some of the guests who attended for the opening of the new veterans centre in Portavogie Harbour House.

Mainly funded by grassroots clubs, individuals and businesses, it was also granted £100k over two yearrs from former Health Minister Robin Swann.

The facility has eight bedrooms, a cafe, restaurant, games room and outdoor pursuits room.

"Our aim is to make this facility available free of charge to all security force and blue light veterans from across the UK and Republic of Ireland," Robert said.

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To do this, their cafe is open to the public and their restaurant will be opening in several weeks.

They also have a meeting room dedicated to the local football club, which is also used by other local community organisations.

There is now a full register of qualified instructors to take classes and excursions in kayaking and power boating on Strangford Lough.

"I want to put the message out there that this facility will also be made available to any other veterans charity that needs our support,” he added.

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The facility will have a 24-7 concierge to provide round the clock support to veterans.

Robert said he has been shocked to discover that supporters have already organised a rota of supporters who will use their days off to supervise the desk.

At present it has eight bedrooms - three of them already in use by homeless veterans - but there are another ten in the building ready to be converted when funding allows.

The building was originally built with EU finance as a shelter for Scottish fishermen who became stranded in NI during heavy weather.

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However it was rarely used for this purpose and was later used as a Chinese restaurant.

More recently it lay derelict and was almost entirely destroyed internally through vandalism.

"But through countless small donations from groups and individuals we have been able to bring it up to the standard of a 5-star hotel," Robert said.

Dozens of veterans from Irish regiments attended the opening in full regimental colours, including elderly members of long defunct regiments, Robert said.

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The facility is available to veterans and their wives for respite, rest and recreation, he said.

The charity will continue to run its mental health support service for veterans from its Ards headquarters.

Some of those who attended the opening included Veterans Commissioner Danny Kinahan, former Health Minister Robin Swann and UUP MLA Mike Nesbitt.

Robert previously noted that a £300,000 survey by Ulster University in 2018 revealed that 82% of NI veterans wanted their own centre.

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The charity offers advocacy for compensation, pensions and housing, as well as treatment of mental health issues, alcohol abuse, addictions, family issues and separations.

Mr McCartney paid tribute to the support from many businesses and individuals for their support in making the centre possible.

• Make booking enquiries with Beyond the Battlefield via [email protected] or on 028 91228389.