A Heroes’ Return

A Heroes’ Return

Injured servicemen and women are being given the opportunity to re-build their lives, gain qualifications and learn new skills by transforming and restoring historic canals.

The Canal & River Trust and Help for Heroes have come together for the first time to deliver an ambitious canal restoration and career recovery programme for wounded, injured or sick servicemen, women and veterans.

Up to 60 veterans, from across the country, will join the Heritage Heroes project and work alongside local canal societies and Canal & River Trust engineers and heritage advisors to transform four forgotten canals. The 18-month project will also see 1,000 new volunteers recruited from nearby local communities.

The project, made possible by £500,000 funding from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, aims to bring pride and purpose back to our heroic veterans while restoring canals, some of which have been left neglected for decades.

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A solider returning from service often has their whole life ahead of them. These highly-skilled and capable individuals, with a great deal to contribute to society, are often ill-prepared for the transition back into the civilian world. The Heritage Heroes project will equip the wounded, injured or sick heroes with City and Guilds qualifications in construction, health and safety, horticulture and land-based management which can be used to help them identify a new, purposeful career.

Giles Woodhouse, Head of Recovery South at Help for Heroes, said: “Leaving the military or realising that your career choice may no longer be possible can be daunting, especially for those who are living with life-changing injuries and illnesses. Working towards a new goal in life through career recovery can be extremely beneficial to an individual’s overall wellbeing, often accelerating their personal recovery journey. This project will resonate with many of our military men and women who will already have some of the necessary skills and enjoy working outdoors, as part of a team.”

Help for Heroes veteran David Teague, 26, of Tidworth, Wiltshire, served as a Sapper with the Royal Engineers before he was medically discharged in April 2016 following a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. At his lowest, he would refuse to leave his house and stopped contact with friends. He now feels ready to kick-start his life again and hopes Heritage Heroes will improve his career prospects.

David said: “Having joined the Army at 16, I feel massively institutionalised and my hope is that Heritage Heroes will help with my transition into civilian life. I really want to get back into working as part of a team and build up my confidence again. I’m really excited to take the next step in my new life and I’m grateful for this opportunity.”

The first phase of the project is taking place in Gloucestershire. Working in partnership with the Cotswold Canals Trust, the veterans will be restoring 500m of canal bank and towpath at the historic Ryeford Wharf. Currently the 200 year old canal is at risk. Left untouched, the nearby River Frome is encroaching on its banks which could cause the towpath to disappear. This restoration project will enable the preservation of our heritage and protect against the destructive effects of the fast-paced river.

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In addition, the project will see the Wiltshire & Berkshire Canal brought back to life by the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust. Veterans and volunteers will make a major contribution towards rebuilding an abandoned stretch of canal and lock. Ironically the lock was used for military demolition practice during the Second World War and needs a complete restoration. Veterans will learn masonry skills as they piece together the lost lock and bridge.

Jason Leach, Enterprise and Restoration Team Manager for the Canal & River Trust, said: “Heritage Heroes is such an exciting project for us. It gives the Canal & River Trust the opportunity to work with a new charity to transform waterways as well as helping to rebuild our wounded heroes’ lives.

Clara Govier, Head of Charities at People’s Postcode Lottery said: “We are delighted that the ‘Dream Fund’ has enabled this partnership between the Canal & River Trust and Help for Heroes. Heritage Heroes will make such a difference to the lives of our injured servicemen and women and I’m looking forward to seeing the results of their hard work on our historic canals.”

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