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Alabaré veterans return to Lord Airey’s Battery for more restoration work

Photos by Eyleen Gomez and Phil Rood

Lord Airey’s Battery at the top of the Rock is undergoing some extensive restoration and renovation this week thanks to a team of veterans from the UK who came out to assist Pete Jackson from the Gibraltar Heritage Trust with his project.

Their visit is credited to Alabaré, a UK based charity which helps support vulnerable, homeless and marginalised people, and it is the third time a team have come out to help on the Battery.

Their Boots on the Ground project is aimed at building self-esteem, resilience, skills and well-being.

Lord Airey’s Battery was built by British troops in 1891 and seen service throughout both World Wars. All of the people working on Lord Airey’s are ex-military, including Mr Jackson.

Some of the team are working on the gun pedestal.

“You can see how far they've gone in the last two days; we've the rust scraped down and it is prepared. Now we're starting to undercoat it,” said Mr Jackson.

In other areas, the team are painting walls and floors inside the Battery, in the cellar itself as well as carrying out different tasks that Mr Jackson needs doing. He described their work as “invaluable” to him and it helps with his work on the Battery immensely.

Mr Jackson also noted that the financial support from some businesses on the Rock also make the week possible with flights, accommodation, food all been taken care of.

Jack Aldous is one of the veterans on the Rock taking part in the project. The ex-military man had to leave the military through no fault of his own, as he is a type 1 diabetic.

When he left, he did a course with veterans’ charity Building Heroes and, over a series of five weeks, he learnt basic bricklaying, carpentry, painting and decorating. From there, he progressed to becoming a qualified scaffolder. All these skills have been put to personal use too as he helped build his own home, as part of a project by Alabaré.

This was his first time going abroad to work with the charity and, in fact, it was his first time getting on a plane having only travelled by ferries previously.

His highlight has been working on the Battery and listening to Mr Jackson, who is an expert on military history on the Rock and beyond.

“It’s been also good to hear what the team have done in other years and what we can do to help bring more tourists up to this gun,” he said.

“I have helped Pete with his little project with a ladder and I helped strip all the old rust and paint off parts of the gun and now I am painting in the cabinet.”

Adam Taylor is out taking part in the works as a volunteer with Boots on the Ground.

“I was wounded in action which ended my career, shattered my leg and all sorts of stuff. Kind of started doing my own thing for a few years and then ended up needing assistance with living so Alabaré stepped in, moved me from North Wales to South Wales,” he said.

“And then I was working with Mel [who is involved with the charity] on different projects in South Wales. And he said ‘you're going to Gibraltar next year’.”

“It was a nice experience to earn to come out here.”

“It's been a really nice experience. The hospitality around here has been absolutely amazing.”

Getting up the Rock each morning with his leg has been one challenge that Mr Taylor has faced, given the fact he has plates, pins and rods implanted from the knee down. But that does not stop him from getting stuck in and getting down on the ground to work on the gun pedestal.

“Basically all the moving parts and we're putting red oxide paint on them to get them ready to be painted grey.”

“So we've been chipping away all the rust and everything for the past two days, clean all that out. And then finally got to paint it today,” he said.

Ryan Watkins has been scraping a lot of rust off and was in the process of painting while enjoying the progress that he was seeing.

He is no stranger to the Rock and was here last year working on the project. “It’s good be came back,” he noted,

For Richard Costello, it was his first time with Boots on the Ground.

“I got accepted to come over to help refurbish and help out the Gibraltarians with the guns and the heritage. And it's awesome to do so,” he told the Chronicle.

Describing the work he has been doing, he said “when we first started, we took down all the rusty metal and made it nice and smooth. We're literally on the third day and we are just putting the undercoat on top of all the old metal.”

Working with the team is also a highlight, with Mr Costello saying they are having “good banter”.

Mr Costello, and the other veterans, is staying at Devil’s Tower Camp. But it is not the first time he has done so. During his service, he spent six weeks on the Rock covering a member of the Royal Gibraltar Regiment who was away from Gibraltar.

“That was a few years ago now and I can’t believe the amount of change Gibraltar has had,” he said.

Chris Kelly was excited to be on the Rock as he has a passion for history as well as a military background, like his family members.

While he hasn’t ever worked on a heritage project before he has, thanks to Alabaré, been on a course where he learnt to become a carpenter.

With these skills and others, he is building his own home in Salisbury.

“I've picked up a few skills along the way. I'm a bit more practical and a bit more hands-on.”

“So coming here, working with my hands and especially being around the history of Gibraltar, I love it and a bit hard work, so it was good,” he said.

“Being with all these guys is fantastic and getting to know Pete as well. He's a fantastic gentleman.”

“He knows so much and I am very into history as well, so anything he can tell me about, what happened here and why things are the way they are, is brilliant. It is a good excuse to learn and tangibly sort of be around things like this,” he added.

Phil Rood is one of the Buddies.

“We sit in between the staff and the client. We're not paid. We're just volunteers,” he said.

“We are all veterans and we just help them along the way. A friendly face and familiar language.”

“With Pete being a veteran as well there is an instant click, everyone has that familiar bond.”

He noted that the project was bigger than he had anticipated, despite having seen the coverage of the works in the Chronicle previously.

“To come and see the size of the Batteries themselves and the job, it is massive,” he said.

The only female on the team, Karen Langley, finds working with the men “fantastic”.

“It takes me back to when I was serving. Lots of banter. Laughing all the time. And it's fantastic to see them in this sort of environment as opposed to the environment back at home,” she said.

“They are just workaholics and its definitely a working holiday and they are all shattered at the end of the day.”

“But it's the laughter that gets everybody through.”

One of the roles Ms Langley has is noting everybody's impact for each day.

“It's a well-being Scale, one to 10 of how they're feeling okay, and it's just a quick check in,” she explained.

“At the beginning they give me random scores. But today, starting off the day, nobody started below five. And I'm seeing more and more tens at the end of the day. Even though you can see in their faces that they're shattered, they are exhausted.”

“They are scoring really high and that's what it's all about. It's the impact of what this has on them for their well-being,” she added.

Simon Firth is the Wellbeing Enterprise Manager who is looking after the team of 13.

He said that, with it being the third year on the Rock, they have developed a great relationship with Pete so they know how he likes to work and what he expects.

“You will always see ex-service personnel being task-minded. You give them a defined task and we like to work within those boundaries. So they're really enjoying this,” he said.

“And actually, for day three, we are about a day better than best case.”

While the team arrived with some sense of trepidation, the response has been “outstanding.”

“You know, a lot of our guys have had a really terrible time. So any change often brings anxiety.”

“But, by the time we left the airport, our team were comfortable with each other. They're starting to be mean to each other and tell awful jokes.”

We service personnel, the worst we speak to each other, the more friends we are,” he added.

Mr Firth had nothing but praise for Mr Jackson, noting that they need to match his energy.

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