Veterans hold Portrush vigil to protest against Bennet House closure
A vigil organised by military veterans is taking place in Portrush to protest against the proposed closure of the Royal British Legion's only break centre in Northern Ireland.
Around 200 people are present at the vigil with some members travelling from all over Ireland to show support for staff at the facility.
The Royal British Legion (RBL) announced in November it was considering closing Bennet House in Portrush. It is used as a break centre for those in the Armed Forces community and is located on the seafront, 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.
UUP councillor for Causeway Coast and Glens Council Richard Holmes said the vigil was supported by the community in Portrush.
"It's been organised with cross-party support and by people supporting Bennet House. A lot of people are here who don't want to see Bennet House go and want to see it stay open - as do people from across Ireland."
— Cllr Richard Holmes UUP (@RichardJHolmes) December 28, 2019
UUP Cllrs and members are the vigil pic.twitter.com/Mbcm7Eoi6b
The closure decision was part of an RBL Strategic Review, and veterans say it was done without any prior consultation.
A spokesperson for the organisers said that the news had "caused shock" within the veteran community here.
Thousands who have availed of its services are "angry" that their place of respite will disappear in early 2020, they added.
"This is a bad decision that will leave veterans feeling abandoned," the spokesperson said.
"We call on the Royal British Legion to think again of the consequences of what it is doing and the impacts the decision will have on vulnerable veterans who served their community and now need help dealing with their experiences.
"There's still time to reverse the decision and that is what we are strongly recommending."
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.
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 wellbeing, and mobility.