Council row leaves Staffordshire veteran centre at risk of closure

Leroy Francis, from Walsall, benefits from the life-changing work of Tri Services Credit: ITV News Central / Handout

A veteran centre in Newcastle-under-Lyme is at risk of closure following a dispute with the local council over the building.

The Tri Services and Veterans’ Support Centre is run by a charity and helps veterans by finding them homes and jobs.

It also makes adaptations to homes for veterans who have disabilities and offers mental health support to those who are struggling.

Leroy Francis knows first hand of the life changing work Tri Services does after having a stair lift and a wet room installed in his home thanks to their work.

Leroy signed up to the RAF at 16 years old and rose up through the ranks to become a Sergeant Credit: ITV News Central / Handout

'It has given me my independence back'

From Walsall, a young Mr Francis signed up to the RAF aged 16 and served in the Gulf as a weapons systems engineer. He went on to thrive as a talented boxer for the service, boxing in front of Princess Diana.

He rose through the ranks to become a sergeant but now he has multiple sclerosis. Unable to use the stairs in his own home, for two years he slept in the dining room using the kitchen sink to wash.

"This stairway lift is an incredible acquisition, it has allowed me to get my independence back and afforded me my dignity," he said.

"The support provided by the Benevolent Fund has made a huge difference to my life.

"I am totally indebted to their support provided by the RAF Benevolent Fund and its associates, helping myself and my wife live in the independent lifestyle as possible."

'This is their place of safety'

The centre has been described as a lifeline to some veterans and their families and they claim that their service has prevented up to nine veteran suicides.

One volunteer said: "We know for a fact that over the past seven years since we've been here, we've prevented at least eight, maybe nine suicides. And we prevented one just last week."

Another volunteer described the potential closure as "devastating" and said the centre is regarded a safe haven for those left vulnerable after the exposure of war.

They added: "The people that come here are used to being here. This is their place of safety."

"You have a lot to eat, drink and it's fantastic," said one centre user Credit: ITV Central News

Dubbed as "the original band of brothers" by one of the users, those who rely on the service have said it would be a great loss.

The charity said despite all of the good work it is doing it is at risk of being kicked out of the centre, which is owned by Staffordshire County Council.

The council leased the building to the charity for free under the condition that they keep it well maintained.

The council claims this hasn't happened and they want the building back so they can sell it.

However, the charity said it has done some maintenance work and fitted a new kitchen - but the building needs a new roof and a whole new heating system which could cost around £6,000.

The council said the offer for the charity to buy the building is still open - but they say it's thousands of pounds that they simply don't have.

They now have six months to raise the cash - and British businessman John Caudwell has pledged to match whatever they raise.

He said: "I went there and it is completely habitable it does need some maintenance doing - they know that. But we can carry on the fundraising and I'll carry on the match for me.

Staffordshire millionaire John Caldwell is backing the centre and has promised to match anything they raise. Credit: ITV Central News

"And if Stafford County Council do the right thing and reduce the price to them, we can carry on and make that building perfectly habitable long term and carry on this essential work for our veterans who, let's face it, have fought on our behalf."

In a statement, a council spokesperson said: "The county council have been supporting Tri Services for seven years allowing them to use the property on Hassell Street rent free providing they maintained the building.

"This was initially for three years with an option to buy it during the term. The council has extended the occupation to allow them more time to raise the funds to acquire the building and this option continues. 

“We recognise the valuable work the organisation does in the local community and have been working with them to help find alternative, more suitable accommodation. Our officers have suggested a number of options which we hope they will consider. 

“The county council continues to support its armed forces communities and their families across the county through the Armed Forces Community Covenant.”

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