A pad to launch a new life

Today, as part of our tenth anniversary celebrations, we’re proud to announce a £171,288 grant to Launchpad, a charity supporting Armed Forces veterans returning to civilian life in Newcastle. Clare Cruddas went to see them

Launchpad's Avondale House
Launchpad’s Avondale House

It was a bright idea that stemmed from a discussion between veteran and Army reservist Ken McMillan of the Armed Forces and Veterans Estates Ltd, and Jill Hayley, the Chief Executive of the Byker Community Trust (BCT) that paved the way for a veterans’ house to be established in Newcastle.

They realised that the uneconomic and under-used old people’s home called Avondale House on the Byker Estate, would make a wonderful base from which veterans of the Armed Forces could find jobs and permanent accommodation in the North East, rather than end up unemployed and homeless.

In August 2013, Avondale House opened as the first veterans’ house of the new charity Launchpad. Within seven months, the house, comprising 34 one-bedroom flats, had been filled with veterans ranging from those who had served over 20 years and had been on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, to those that did not complete military training.

Since opening, Avondale House has been home for 42 veterans. Many have taken part in training and education, 14 have obtained jobs and eight have moved on to other accommodation.

Housing Minister, Kris Hopkins MP visits Avon House and pictured talking to Manager Eddie Dean
April 2014, Housing Minister Kris Hopkins (right) talks to Eddie Dean, the Manager of Launchpad’s Avondale House on the Byker Estate

Launchpad chairman David Shaw told me: “This project has developed wonderfully over the past 18 months. The run-down, empty, old people’s home been transformed into a vibrant centre for veterans. The local community has welcomed the veterans and Avondale House is a wonderful launchpad for the veterans as they return to the civilian community.”

At Avondale House I also spoke to veteran David Hayles, who is slowly making the transition to civilian life with the help of Launchpad.

He told me: “Five years in the Coldstream Guards taught me self-discipline, confidence and how to be a valuable member of a team. As an infantry soldier my mission was to restore and maintain peace in various operational theatres. I did this with great pride on numerous occasions on operational tours in some very hostile environments.

“I now have to face a new battle – accommodating myself to civilian life. Over the last few months, and since I have been in Launchpad’s Avondale House I have been volunteering in the fitness industry to gain confidence and experience. I have slowly helped friends and family with diet plans, training sessions, muscle building and weight loss.

We wish David and all the other residents at Avondale House good luck for the future.

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