Veterans community garden project

2 Jul 2024

Dozens of volunteers to join forces and build veterans’ community garden 

The GMC June Best Sanctuary Garden is being built by the military community for the military community  

Work is underway for the creation of a veterans’ community garden, with the whole military community mucking in to help – volunteers include serving and former members of the Armed Forces, their friends, colleagues, and their enthusiastic children. 

The ‘GMC June Best Sanctuary Garden’ is being built at the Gordon Messenger Centre (GMC) based opposite the Commando Training Centre Royal Marines, Lympstone. Over seven days this July, at least 130 volunteers (35/day) will take it in turns to help with its construction. 

SSAFA Devon, The Armed Forces Charity is sponsoring the build of the project, made possible by a generous legacy gift by former SSAFA Devon volunteer, June Best in 2022. 

The centre is dedicated to enhancing the wellbeing of tri-service Armed Forces personnel and veterans, and their families. This project is the first of its kind in the UK and will provide a tranquil and therapeutic space fostering relaxation, connection, and healing. 

Former Wren, Bex Pearson’s eyes fill with tears when she describes knocking on the door of the GMC in December and realised it was for veterans like her. 

“I was at a stage of my life where I’d begun to feel a bit lost, so knocked on the door of one day and was absolutely gob smacked at the facilities here,” the 57-year-old from Lympstone explained. 

“It was almost like ‘coming home’; finding that missing piece of the jigsaw that I needed to be back among Forces’ people.” 

Bex joined the Women’s Royal Navy Service (WRNS) in 1989 aged 19, as a Radio Operator. She trained at HMS Raleigh in Cornwall, then HMS Mercury in Portsmouth, later completing her Officer Training at Dartmouth, South Devon. She then spent eight years as a Royal Naval Officer ending up as the senior personnel selection officer for the department of naval recruiting. 

She is now compiling a roll of honour for the 1,800 women who served in Devon’s Land Army during the Second World war, for the Devon Records Office.  

“I don’t think I realised quite how much my Navy life meant to me until I started dreaming about being back,” she continued. “And now, being here among other veterans means so much to me. 

“Coming up here has given me a whole new lease of life. And the garden will enhance that sense of wellbeing.” 

The project has been designed by, and will be delivered by, international community development company Splash Projects, which has its HQ in Exmouth. Splash Projects’ designers have worked closely with a committee of veterans to ensure the garden will be a multi-functional, wheelchair accessible space involving sensory elements, including a fire area and a water feature, a growing garden, and plenty of seating.  

Splash Projects give project volunteers the opportunity to come together and learn new skills, while giving back to their community and creating a legacy for others. Community and camaraderie are at the heart of the project and participants can expect an extremely fulfilling and rewarding experience. 

The project has been made possible thanks to RMA-The Royal Marines Charity, which has donated a generous legacy gift by a former Royal Marine through the Tavistock Freemasons/Sanctuary Lodge. 

Since the launch of the project earlier this year, support has poured in from various southwest businesses. 

Vistry Group has contributed significantly to the project having chosen SSAFA as its charity of the year; the South West region is supporting the project by providing a team of volunteers for the build and has secured support from their local suppliers and donated resources free of charge. 

Groundworks are currently being carried out pro bono by Champion Groundworks ahead of the project in mid-July. 

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