Funding secures bright future for veterans’ cafe

A CAFÉ offering support and friendship for Armed Forces veterans has been given a cash injection to allow it continue until next year.

And the Veteran’s Café has also attracted the attention of Westminster with its important work, with founder Phil Burton receiving a hand-written thank you from Rt. Hon Tobias Ellwood MP.

BAE Systems agreed to support the café at the Roccoco Coffee Lounge in Leyland after hearing how successful it has been since its launch in April.

The first event alone attracted 30 people, including 20 veterans as well as their relatives and carers, and numbers have reached almost 60 at some of the monthly meetings.

From October, thanks to BAE Systems’ support, the event will be held twice each month – on the first and the third Saturdays - to meet the increased demand.

The café is the brainchild of former Royal Artillery Lance Bombardier and dad-of-three Phil Burton, who approached South Ribble Borough Council earlier this year to ask for help in coordinating veterans’ support services.

Since its launch in April, however, the café has exceeded expectations. So much so, that news of its success has reached the minister with responsibility for veterans.

In a hand-written letter, Rt Hon Tobias Ellwood wrote: “As the Minister responsible for Defence people and veterans I simply wanted to express my admiration for your efforts in establishing the Veterans Cafe.

“The nation owes such a debt of gratitude to all veterans and every effort made to recognise this is appreciated."

Reacting to the news of the cash boost, Phil said: “It's amazing that this has now been cemented for another six months - and now twice monthly, which can only benefit the veterans. On average we’re getting 45 to 50 through the door every month, and there are lots of new faces as well. The café has seen ages ranging from five-year-olds with their families to a 93-year-old veteran.”

Phil’s vision was to provide a regular meeting place where veterans could get together and share their experiences in a supportive and friendly environment.

But the café, at Rococco, which is run by the Brothers of Charity Services in Lancashire, provides much more than this. It also helps veterans to overcome social isolation by allowing them to meet different people and by sparking new friendships. Some have also been able to access services from charities and the NHS that they were unaware of.

One veteran, who was living with post-traumatic stress disorder, found help after attending the café. With no job and the prospect of homelessness, the stress was intense. But Phil contacted the relevant services who were then able to support the veteran in securing employment and a place to live. In the veteran’s own words: “Life could not be any better.”

Roccoco’s suppliers, Oncore and All Fresh, were so inspired by the project they agreed to provide some of the food for the café.

South Ribble Borough Council Leader Cllr Peter Mullineaux said: “It’s very clear that there was a need for something like this and it’s fantastic news that the initiative will now continue into next year. We must not forget these brave men and women and the sacrifices they have made for their country.”

Alex Moore, Communications Director at BAE Systems added: “The Veterans’ Café provides a fantastic service to our local heroes and helps ensure they receive the support they undoubtedly deserve.

“BAE Systems is delighted to be able to provide support so that this series of events can continue to be a huge success, now with more regular meetings.”

South Ribble MP Seema Kennedy has been a keen supporter of the café since its launch. She said: “I am delighted that the Veterans Cafe is providing support to ex service personnel from the area, and that this can continue until May. I would like to pay particular tribute to Phil Burton for his idea and for everyone else who has supported him. "

South Ribble Borough Council signed the Armed Forces Community Covenant in November 2012, promising a commitment to help veterans and those currently serving in the military with their family life, housing, health, skills and employment.

From October the Veterans’ Café will run on the first and third Saturdays of every month. The next one will be on Saturday, 8 October from 10am to 1pm at Roccoco Café, Chapel Brow, Leyland.

For more information, please contact South Ribble Borough Council’s Partnership Manager Howard Anthony on 01772 625 546 or via partnership@southribble.gov.uk