Veteran interview: Veterans community garden project

4 Jul 2024

Why is the Gordon Messenger Centre (GMC) – a military community hub based at the Commando Training Centre Royal Marines, Lympstone, Devon – of such value to all who use it? 

As we count down to the impending construction of a garden here, we’ve spoken to some of those who use it, to find out… 

Geoff Jones spent eight years in in the RAF’s Military Intelligence department, leaving in 1986 after a traumatic military related incident in Cyprus.  

The 61-year-old’s been coming to the GMC since it opened, helping wherever he’s needed, including cooking breakfast for veterans every Thursday and volunteering as a walk leader. 

“I didn’t want to leave the RAF but was forced to because of what had happened which left me with chronic complex PTSD,” he said. “I had various jobs when I came out and was OK for about three years when the PTSD really kicked in. I went downhill and became very depressed and suicidal, I felt like I’d totally lost the plot.” 

Geoff was supported by military mental health charity Combat Stress for about 15 years. 

“But then they gave up on me and said they couldn’t help me anymore,” he added. “And the NHS was absolutely hopeless.” 

He tried any avenue of support available, and then found solace in the Armed Forces Hub in Exeter. 

“I really enjoyed that,” he continued. “Before then I was constantly depressed, I had no idea what I wanted to do from one day to the next, I was out of work and just felt a blackness. Going to the hub was the best thing I ever did; it gave me routine and structure and meeting all the other guys was an absolute saviour.  

“But I still wasn’t better. So I went on the Warrior Programme; they said, ‘we’re going to make your life totally different within three days’. I just thought, yeah right, no one’s managed to help me in three decades.  

“But they did. There was 19 of us having group hypnosis, and all the anger disappeared on day two, we all just said to each other ‘what happened there!’. My head was empty of all my anger, years of anger, just gone.” 

Then the GMC opened and Geoff’s been helping out here ever since and “absolutely loves” it.  

“We’re almost like family here, the place has such a positive atmosphere,” he continued. “It’s a safe place. It’s like being back in the military, with the camp over there and marines coming in, you feel a sense of belonging. 

“Being here gives me relief, it gives a lot of guys relief. Here, they forget about all their problems, giving their brains a rest and a chance to reset. 

“While I used to associate my service with the trauma at the end, things have flipped round and now I associate being in the Forces with the positivity I feel here.” 

Geoff said the garden will enhance the wellbeing of veterans even further. 

He added: “Some people don’t like being indoors, so the garden will provide an outdoor space with relaxing areas and a place to switch off, while also being a great social area. 

“It’s going to be a place where people can do what they want in peace and quiet, planting, gardening or meditating. The water feature will be very therapeutic and the fire pit is going to be a very social space. 

“The great thing is it will be accessible to everyone and available for everyone – great for mind, body and spirit.” 

***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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