85-year-old veteran uses his skills to support community self-build scheme

The end of 2020 was strikingly downbeat for many but for one 85-year-old, retired, ex-serviceman there were a number of reasons to smile.

Dennis

Dennis Abbott moved to Hereford, to live in a caravan, in 2017 after his partner who was living with dementia was moved into one of the town’s care homes. Just a year later, Dennis’ partner sadly passed away and he found himself feeling more alone than ever.

With only two familiar faces visiting him, his son-in-law and the postman, Dennis spent a lot of time alone in his caravan, feeling claustrophobic and like the rest of the world had forgotten about him.

Following the decision to try and tackle his anxiety by visiting his doctor, Dennis was put in touch with a local ex-service support centre and established a relationship with support charity Alabaré, which was preparing to embark on a project in Leominster with social housing provider Stonewater.

The regeneration development project’s other partners Herefordshire Council, Alabaré, the Longleigh Foundation and contractor J Harper and Sons (Leominster) Ltd joined forces at Waterworks Lane,  to tackle homelessness and demonstrate how housing providers could work within their local communities to create other opportunities.

A key element of this scheme, was the opportunity for veterans to work alongside Stonewater’s local contractor, gaining construction skills, training and experience as they built their own homes. Once completed, the veterans would have the opportunity to rent one of the affordable homes that they’d helped to build and use their new-found skills to find employment for those veterans available for work.

Unlike the other veterans who joined the scheme, Dennis had previously worked in carpentry and so the scheme provided him the opportunity to put his skills to good use, meet new people and give him a sense of purpose at a time when he needed it the most.

Despite interruptions and restrictions due to COVID-19, Dennis was still able to work safely throughout the project and surprised the other veterans on moving in day with a hand-made chair for each of them, tailored with the badge of the regiment they had served, accompanied with a beautifully crafted first aid kit.

“I wanted to do something special,” he said. “Working on this project has helped me feel like I’m a part of a brotherhood again. We weren’t just working together and soon-to-be neighbours, we became friends and that made moving into my new home even more exciting.

“I’m glad I’ve been able to rekindle my love with carpentry again and thankful that along with my new home, the builders put up a shed in my garden, especially for me so that I could use it as a mini workshop. I feel myself again and now that I have a home, made of bricks, I feel settled and nothing but grateful for being given this opportunity.

“When you’re in the military, you’re pushed to meet a certain goal and achieving that goal is usually the highlight of the mission. For this project, the goal was completing the homes and so whilst I enjoyed every moment of the journey, moving in and seeing everyone else move in was my personal highlight.”

Dennis Abbot served in the Royal Artillery for six and a half years more than 50 years ago. To hear the latest about this project and what the veterans have been up to since moving into their new homes, listen to our On the Air podcast, Tackling Veteran Homelessness: Six Months On: