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The Hampshire team hiking the Lake District in aid of injured veterans

PUBLISHED: 10:21 28 March 2017

The Aldershot team - from L-R Simon Warner, Dave McNeilly, Craig Wheatley, Anne Walker (support worker at MJH), Alex Todino, Duncan Welton and Heather Miles

The Aldershot team - from L-R Simon Warner, Dave McNeilly, Craig Wheatley, Anne Walker (support worker at MJH), Alex Todino, Duncan Welton and Heather Miles

Archant

There’s nothing like a brisk walk in the country air. For one Hampshire team, there really is nothing like the one they will embark on in May, a Lake District hike in aid of a charity for injured veterans. Susie Kearley reports

In May, Alex Todino from Mike Jackson House in Aldershot, will lead a team of walkers on a 24km hill climb as part of the annual Cumbrian Challenge. This is the second year she’ll have led a local team up the Lake District’s majestic fells, to help raise funds for the charity ‘Walking With The Wounded’, which supports injured veterans looking for work.

It was established in 2010 to help wounded, sick and injured servicemen and women to find work and independence in the civilian world. All beneficiaries have been physically, mentally or socially disadvantaged, and all those receiving help in Alex’s team are homeless. Some of the charity’s beneficiaries take part in the Cumbrian Challenge with prosthetic limbs.

Alex is an employment advisor for the charity, based at Mike Jackson House, a 25 bedroom facility for wounded servicemen. She also supports wounded those living independently in the local community. The service is available to help any vulnerable veteran.

Alex says, “Two Aldershot teams took part in the Cumbrian Challenge last year and we’re planning to have two teams this year too. One of our regular participants is Craig Wheatley who came to us after he’d lost his job, his partner, and had a breakdown. He had nowhere to live, was reported as a missing person, and was found camping in the woods. He moved into Mike Jackson House in October 2015, took part in the walk in May, and is doing really well. This year, he wants to improve on the time we achieved last year! He’s now looking at employment opportunities and is very involved in the charity.

“Duncan Welton, another walker on the Aldershot team, was a corporal in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers until 2001. He came to Mike Jackson House in March 2015 after losing his job, and being unable to afford to keep his tenancy on his property. He’s now working full-time in a sales role and doing really well.

“David McNeilly served in the Parachute Regiment and Royal Signals. He had a mental breakdown and family break up, which led to him being homeless, living in a tent, and moving to Mike Jackson House in Sept 2012. In May 2015 he started living independently, and is working full-time as a support worker for people with learning difficulties.

“Simon Warner served as a regimental butcher for nine years and lived in Mike Jackson House from March 2014 to October 2016 after a family bereavement and a subsequent bout of depression and homelessness. He took part in the Cumbrian Challenge last year, found employment over the summer, but has relocated to London.

“I joined the charity in March 2015 and my first Cumbrian Challenge was in May 2016. We opted to do the mid-length walk, called ‘The Tough’ (24km), but despite its name, I didn’t realise how tough it was going to be! We practised in the weeks running up to the event, but I still found it a lot harder than I’d imagined. From the outset, we were climbing a really steep hill. There was no gradual incline to ease us into the walk. We walked for 7.5 hours! It was a lovely sunny day though and there was stunning scenery on the route. Everybody loved it, and we finished with a barbecue and an Abba tribute act back at base, where there was a real party atmosphere in the evening.

“There was some friendly rivalry between teams, but it was just banter. We were joking about getting ahead of the Scottish team. The teams were all a mix of abilities, with some participants taking part with prosthetic limbs.

“It was a quite gruelling experience, and there was one point where we thought we might have to drop out, because one of our team had a bad knee and hip, caused by arthritis, but he struggled on with the help of pain killers and made it to the finish line.!

“The high point was definitely crossing the finishing line! We all came in together, and with such a mix of abilities on our team, it was nice that we all made it at the same time.

“We raised about £400 last year, got sponsorship, and we intend to do more fundraising in 2017. Walking with the Wounded raised over £200,000 from the event.

“The Cumbrian Challenge marks one of my proudest moments since I started working for the charity. Seeing the guys in such a relaxed environment in the lakes, having all achieved the challenge, was great. Everyone was on a high. The best bit of my job is seeing people come in needing help, in a bad place, and being able to help them and see their journey through to its conclusion. Some people get jobs and move into their own accommodation. Seeing that take place, from a difficult start, to a happy conclusion, is very rewarding.

Sometimes they need reminding just how far they’ve come.”


You can sign up

The challenge - As well as providing accommodation and support for injured service personnel, Walking With the Wounded help with training, skill development and work placements for their beneficiaries. They work with local employers to match skills to roles and to find new work opportunities for injured veterans.

New teams can still sign up for the challenge if you fancy taking part.

Find out more at walkingwiththewounded.org.uk

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