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Veterans call on British Legion to keep Portrush seaside break centre open

Closure: Bennet House in Portrush
Closure: Bennet House in Portrush

By Mark McConville

Military veterans have urged the Royal British Legion to halt the closure of its only break centre in Northern Ireland.

The Royal British Legion (RBL) announced last month 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.

The veterans and their supporters plan a vigil outside the facility at noon on Saturday to express their opposition and show support for the staff.

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.

"This vigil is being organised by those who served and feel aggrieved at the decision taken without consultation and considering our circumstances.

"We invite veterans and supporters to join with us to let the RBL see the depth of feeling there is over the move.

"Bennet House is a special place to many who can avail of a short break as part of their coping mechanism."

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.

Anyone intending to travel to the vigil is asked to register their interest and mode of transport to a dedicated email address at vigil2812@outlook.com.

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