Belfast Telegraph

British Legion Northern Ireland break centre facing closure

Bennet House in Portrush
Bennet House in Portrush

By Eimear McGovern

The Royal British Legion is considering closing its only break centre in Northern Ireland over financial pressures.

A spokesperson said it is consulting with staff members of Bennet House in Portrush as part of a strategy review being undertaken by the organisation. Three other centres across the UK are also under threat.

Bennet House is used as a break centre for those in the armed forces community and is located on the seafront in Portrush, with 15 ensuite rooms. It offers those using the accommodation a social area, roof terrace, games room and visiting therapists, as well as offering outings to nearby tourist attractions.

The British Legion's Handy Van service, which helps veterans with small home adaptations, is also being considered for closure.

It comes as the charity approaches its centenary year in 2021.

UUP councillor Norman Hillis said it would be a blow to the community to see Bennet House close.

"A lot of people from all over the UK benefit from staying with the British Legion," he said.

"Everything I'm told is that everyone is looked after very well, they're taken on trips, the food is first-class and people have a wonderful experience. As someone who runs a shop in Portrush, we benefit from the presence of the facility.

"I'm shocked to hear that it might close because it will be a loss to those who have benefited from staying there and those who work there. It will also mean another vacant property in the area."

Increasing pressure on the charity's services has brought about the strategy review. The legion said there has been a 20% increase since 2016 in reliance on its basic services including housing, financial issues, mental health and well-being and mobility.

A legion spokesperson said the introduction of the Fundraising Regulator and General Data Protection Regulation have increased pressure on the charity’s existing resources.

They said the legion intends to focus more on personalised support and working with older veterans, as well as funding specialist organisations to make sure those who need it most get the help they need.

The DUP’s Gregory Campbell said every effort had to be made to save the facility.

“I have been in touch with a number of people to ensure that RBL centrally are aware of the tremendous work carried out at this facility,” he said.

“It is essential that as many people as possible who know and appreciate the much valued work done here is retained.

“I believe there is an exceptional case to save this much needed facility given the lack of services there already are in Northern Ireland, compared to the rest of the UK for our veterans who suffer from PTSD or other mental health issues.”

It is important that people engage in the consultation process on the future of Bennet House. We must make the case that this respite facility should be there to help support veteran families and importantly those who served our country.”

The Royal British Legion’s director general, Charles Byrne, added: “To start more of this work we do need to stop doing something else, which has led us to put forward proposals on our four hotels and home maintenance service.

“We do not make these proposals lightly and we are well aware of the impact the proposals could have on our staff who have made hugely valuable contributions to the charity’s work.

“Over the coming months we will be ensuring our staff’s voices are heard and that they play a vital part in the decisions that we face.”

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