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Date published: 15 July 2021

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.

Other partners include Herefordshire Council, Alabaré, the Longleigh Foundation and contractor J Harper and Sons (Leominster) Ltd. They joined forces at Waterworks Lane, to tackle homelessness and demonstrate how housing providers can work within their local communities to create other opportunities.

The scheme gave veterans the opportunity to work alongside Stonewater’s local contractor, developing construction skills, and gathering 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 gave him an 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 pandemic restrictions, Dennis was still able to work safely on the project and surprised the other veterans with a hand-made chair for each of them - tailored with the badge of the regiment they had served. This was accompanied by 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 togethe, 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 for 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: