HM Armed Forces and Veterans Caravan Group looks after serving and former military personnel, and their families, by offering affordable caravan holidays at sites in Devon and the Peak District National Park.
It was launched three years ago by veteran Mick Keen and, although originally available to those suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), it is now open for veterans and members with any illness.
Mick, from Wirksworth, served with the Royal Marines and Royal Navy for 12 years and once attempted to take his own life due to his own struggles with PTSD – something which drove him to set up the group.
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He said: “I was diagnosed with PTSD seven years ago now. I had started work as a lorry driver and would find myself just bursting into tears as I drove down the road, remembering things because of being on my own in the lorry and being isolated.
"I’d be making plans with family and friends then at the last minute cancelling, coming up with lame excuses. Then I tried to take my life around four years ago. I got some counselling and still actually go to counselling now, it has helped but the real help was setting up the group.
"I thought that maybe if I’d have had somewhere to go, or even had a caravan, then I wouldn’t have tried it. That sparked the idea, knowing there were other veterans out there in a similar position to myself.”
Mick was able to gather enough money through fundraising to buy a second-hand caravan before Covid-19 hit.
After shutting the operation for some time, it reopened in late 2020 and now has use of five caravans – three in Derbyshire, one in Paignton, and another on the north east coast.
The group is also partnered with Peak Gateway Leisure in Ashbourne, with owner Robert Bowden offering discounted pitch fees in support of the members and veterans.
However, due to demand, the group is now fundraising to buy another caravan or appealing for businesses who could donate one second-hand.
Mick, 55, added: “We’re completely non-profit, nobody takes a wage out of this. Everything we have left – once we’ve paid site fees, maintenance, insurance and things like that – stays in the bank account until we can afford another caravan.
"It goes against our mission statement when a veteran rings up and asks to book a caravan and I have to turn around and say we’re full. That gets quite upsetting for myself and the rest of the team.”
As part of fundraising efforts, Mick and members of HM Armed Forces and Veterans Caravan Group will be hosting an event on May 7 and 8 to coincide with VE Day.
It will take place Peak Gateway campsite and feature a range of 1940s-themed entertainment including a range of military vehicles from that era; singers who will perform classics from the likes of Dame Vera Lynn and The Andrews Sisters; and a thrilling flypast by the Battle of Britain memorial flight.
For more information visit the Operation Ashbourne Event page on Facebook or call Dick Lindsay on 07719 078287.