SSAFA Devon profile: Veterans community garden project

8 Jul 2024

The GMC June Best Sanctuary Garden at military community hub, the Gordon Messenger Centre, CTCRM, Lympstone, is happening all because of SSAFA, the Armed Forces Charity.  

Established in 1885, The Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen’s Families Association is Britain’s oldest tri-service military charity and provides lifelong support to serving men and women, veterans and their families. Free services include support transitioning from the military to civvy street, benefits, disability and mental health support.  

SSAFA Devon supports hundreds of serving and former members of the Armed Forces every year, relying entirely on volunteers, including the late June Best. In her Will, June generously left the branch a legacy gift, part of which is funding the lion’s share of the community garden project at the GMC.  

Mark Tyrrell-Smith, Branch Chair of SSAFA Devon, explained how the garden concept arose:

I had just taken over as Chair, and during a catch up with LJ, the GMC manager, identified she was looking to run a small project with a small donation.  

“The GMC already had feedback that veterans’ groups were looking for an external space that offered year-round access for outdoor classes, contemplation, relaxation, and potentially small events. 

“The GMC supports SSAFA’s target group of beneficiaries and we agreed that an enhanced external space could increase both access and usage, so we began scoping out the art of the possible.” 

A project steering group and a working group subsequently identified the need for a multi-functional outdoor space, including sensory aspects (earth, fire, water), all-weather spaces for outdoor lessons, a wellness centre, a garden to grow produce, and an outdoor serving area for the existing kitchen, with disabled access, paths, and patios. 

“It was very quickly clear that this was no longer something a small donation would cover!” added Mark. 

Mark took the business case to SSAFA Central Office and was given the green light to run the first ever ‘national trial’, testing the concept of local social investment.  

The garden has been designed by, will be built by, and then used by the local armed forces community. 

Mark added:

“SSAFA Devon is hoping that the project build will act as a catalyst to bring together multiple veterans’ groups and charities, raising the profile of SSAFA and the GMC, while bringing together commercial partners and sponsors, including Vistry Group.” 

***The GMC June Best Sanctuary Garden, located at the Gordon Messenger Centre (GMC), a tri-service community hub at CTCRM, Lympstone, has been sponsored by SSAFA Devon The Armed Forces Charity, thanks to a generous legacy gift by former SSAFA Devon volunteer June Best. It is being built by volunteers from the military community, for the military community, and delivered by Splash Projects. Further substantial sponsorship has come from RMA-The Royal Marines Charity (donated as a legacy gift by a former Royal Marine through the Tavistock Freemasons/Sanctuary Lodge), with significant additional support from Vistry Group.*** 


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