GRAEME COUSINS visits Clough in Co Down to find out about plans to set up a fishing retreat for veterans suffering from physical and mental wounds
A charity for ex-servicemen is hoping to establish a fishing retreat in Co Down, primarily to give traumatised veterans a place to relax.
Robert Maxwell from Clough and his friend Nigel Cree from Seaforde are two ex-servicemen involved in Let’s Do, a charity which aims to aid physically and mentally injured veteran’s rehabilitation through outdoor group events.
The UK-wide charity is most active in the Isle of Man, but the Clough pair want to add to the charity’s outdoor assets in Northern Ireland.
They are in the process of setting up a fishing retreat at Kennedy’s Bog – located by farmland owned by Robert’s father – which they hope will be ready by the summer.
Nigel said: “What we’ve decided to do is turn it into a fishery that the charity can use to let veterans fish and relax a bit. We’ve also got the Mournes right beside us so that’s another outdoor activity they can do while they’re here.
“This is our baby. There’s projects elsewhere in the UK but we want to have something to offer in Northern Ireland for veterans here or from elsewhere in the UK to come over.”
Robert said: “To start off we cleaned the lake out – you were getting four to five foot of water and then five to six foot of pure sludge.
“Then Nigel and I built a bridge over the lake. Next we’ll be building two fishing stands.”
The bridge and two fishing stands are to be named after servicemen who died during the Troubles, or later as a result of injuries suffered during the conflict.
Of the river’s fishing potential, Nigel said: “Originally there were rudd in it. The ministry (DAERA) gave us some more rudd, perch and tench. They put about 600 in plus there would already have been a natural head of 200. We have a decent head of fish in there.”
A keen fisherman himself, Nigel added: “I think anything which helps people relax and they’re in good company has got to be of benefit.
“The activity is what we can offer to get them out of the house, but it’s really about the company.”
Robert said: “We could be facilitating over 100 veterans in a year easily. Who we’re aiming for are guys who are either mentally or physically disabled.”
Robert’s Army career ended as a result of the injuries he sustained in a motorcycle accident in 2004.
He lost an arm in the hit and run crash and he also suffered head injuries and nerve damage. Since then Robert has suffered from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
He said: “I was in a bad way – physically and mentally. You can fix the body but the mind isn’t as easy to repair. PTSD never really goes away.
“Through our charity we’re treating disabled veterans like ordinary individuals and not patronising them.
“We can’t offer financial support but we can offer peer support.”
After his accident Robert volunteered in a pastoral care role offering support to injured military veterans.
This led to the the development of Let’s Do veteran’s support charity, set up in 2014.
Let’s Do is a veteran run charity which has helped people overcome disabilities since 2014.
The main aim of the charity is to help ex-servicemen and women to come to terms with injuries and disabilities – such as amputees, those with limited vision, partial paralysis and PTSD – through outdoor activities that will encourage them to become involved and help them to grow confidence whilst becoming comfortable with their disabilities.
For more information see www.letsdoevents.info
When Robert’s marriage fell apart, his wife stayed in the family home while Robert moved into a wooden cabin on his father’s farm.
Robert wants the cabin to form phase two of the fishing project by renovating it to allow fellow veterans to stay over for respite.
Nigel commented: “Through the course of our work we learn about people who have chosen a life of isolation because of PTSD and injuries suffered during their service.
“For instance we’ve learnt about a guy who is so depressed that he hasn’t left the house in eight years. He used to fish. I’m hoping we can use that to get him out of the house.
“There are people out there who feel abandoned. Largely men. Quite a lot have been in a family, their marriage has collapsed, they live in isolation.”
Robert added: “Big military charities generate lots of money, but they’ve become corporate and ex-servicemen who need help most are falling through the cracks.
“It’s the guys who we know about who are being ignored because they’re not high profile enough, there’s no publicity mileage in them.
“Funding for our charity is very ad hoc. In fishing terms we’re the minnows.
“We don’t have a great deal of budget and volunteers, but those who are involved work extremely hard.”
Asked if, considering the trauma he has suffered, he still would have signed up to join the army, Robert said: “Yes, my biggest regret is not being able to achieve more in the service. I can see why there is recruiting issues now when you look at the way the veterans are being treated.”