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New vision for former Pontins site as UK’s first ‘veterans village’

PUBLISHED: 18:30 12 March 2019

Aerial shot of the Pontins site in Hemsby which is being looked at as a base for a new rehabilitation centre for military veterans Photo: Simon Carter

Aerial shot of the Pontins site in Hemsby which is being looked at as a base for a new rehabilitation centre for military veterans Photo: Simon Carter

Archant

A ‘veterans’ village’ tipped as the first of its kind in the UK could be taking shape in Hemsby after an approach from a former serviceman.

Neil Archbold who is spearheading a bid to build the UK's first veterans village at Hemsby on the old Pontins site Picture: supplied by Neil ArchboldNeil Archbold who is spearheading a bid to build the UK's first veterans village at Hemsby on the old Pontins site Picture: supplied by Neil Archbold

The proposal has come from Neil Archbold, who served in the Falklands conflict, to potentially transform the abandoned Pontins site into a healing hub for veterans and their families.

Mr Archbold, 55, from Basingstoke, has won the support of veterans’ charity Forgotten Veterans UK which already runs a project in Portsmouth and shares his vision of a safe place for rest and rehabilitation, as well as a centre for military reunions.

The father-of-three who admits he “lost the plot” as he made his way back into civilian life said he was overwhelmed with the level of enthusiasm for the ambitious scheme.

“It took me quite a while to sort myself out,” he said. “And I did it pretty much on my own. I just thought to myself ‘what would I want, and what would I need? What was missing when I was going through the system?’

A digger moves in at Pontins. Under plans for a veterans village some of the chalets could be retained Picture: Anglian Demolition and Asbestos Ltd.A digger moves in at Pontins. Under plans for a veterans village some of the chalets could be retained Picture: Anglian Demolition and Asbestos Ltd.

“The vision is there and we have the means to apply for funding. Now all we need to do is persuade the owners to let us have a crack at the land.”

MORE: Water park, leisure centre, and holiday camp among ideas put forward for Pontins site

The site was being touted on social media by Hemsby Action Group, formed to fight for something worthwhile on the derelict plot,

Group members met with representatives of the Forgotten Veterans on Monday and heard heartbreaking stories about why such a centre was needed, with rates of suicide and homelessness much higher among those who have served in the military.

Mr Archbold said charity muscle could be used to lever grant funding.

Pontins in Hemsby once welcomed thousands of smiling visitors. The lastest idea could see it become a hub for veterans struggling to get back on their feet Photo: Archant LibraryPontins in Hemsby once welcomed thousands of smiling visitors. The lastest idea could see it become a hub for veterans struggling to get back on their feet Photo: Archant Library

Action group chairman, Kim McAdoo, said the idea was already gaining a groundswell of approval in the village.

Mrs McAdoo said Hemsby was “violently opposed” to mainly residential plans being put forward by landowner Northern Trust at the site where fires are a regular hazard since the holiday camp shut a decade ago.

Under the veterans plan local people would have access to leisure facilities, and with some of the site being used for veteran families on holiday it would retain more of the holiday aspect they were looking for, she added.

There would also be employment opportunities and the chance to re-use some of the chalets that were “going to waste” while people needed homes.

James Bensly, a seaside cafe owner whose borough council ward includes the site, said: “This is a wonderful idea that will breathe new life into our village and borough with the possibility of a 52 week a year economy with some low skilled employment opportunities and wonderful new assets for the northern parishes.

The swimming pool at Pontins where families once had fun on holiday. The site has been shut for a decade  Photo: Archant LibraryThe swimming pool at Pontins where families once had fun on holiday. The site has been shut for a decade Photo: Archant Library

“Hemsby will be the only rehabilitation centre of it’s kind in the UK.

“Giving service personnel that have fought for our country a chance for rehabilitation and family time to make some memories will be an honour for my village.

“I believe they deserve that.

“This venue will also help to support local residents by allowing them opportunities to use the facilities on site.

“I can only support this amazing adventure and have given the veterans my full support.”

A planning application for 190 homes, shops, and holiday accommodation has yet to be decided.

A spokesman for Northern Trust said: “We do get the odd enquiry, which are usually from time wasters or people being nosey.

“We aren’t aware of this particular enquiry.”

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