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Heritage project raises awareness of challenges faced by many military veterans

Pic by Eyleen Gomez

A group of military veterans will arrive on the Rock next week to support the restoration and renovation of Lord Airey’s Battery under the guidance of Pete Jackson from the Gibraltar Heritage Trust.

The six veterans, ranging in age from 30 to 86, include some who have been to Gibraltar during their service, some several times.

“The purpose of the Gibraltar Veterans Heritage project is to build an enduring link to a place where many have served or passed through, and which has positive memories for them,” said Claire Sime, from the organizing charity Alabaré, which helps support vulnerable, homeless and marginalised people.

“Lord Airey’s Battery is an iconic element of Gibraltar heritage, having been built by British troops in 1891 and seen service throughout both World Wars.”

“Since 1976 the gun had fallen into disrepair until becoming the subject of a renovation project spearheaded by military historian Pete Jackson.”

“Now six veterans who have struggled and faced being homeless in their civilian lives since leaving the Armed Forces, are returning to Gibraltar to give back to the UK territory where many personnel have spent time during their careers.”

“They each have a range of skills and experience to bring to the task, but they will be learning the specific renovation skills on the job.”

She added that the trip means a great deal to the veterans, with each of them talking of looking forward to working as a team to be able to “give back” to both the territory and the Armed Forces family.

“Between them the team represent all four military services and recognise this as a significant opportunity to honour those colleagues they have served with and thank the people who have supported them,” Ms Sime said.

“Gibraltar holds happy memories for many of them and they see it as fitting that they can contribute to the heritage of this special place.”

The project has been made possible due to the support of several Gibraltarian and UK organisations, including the Gibraltar Heritage Trust, the Friends of the Gibraltar Heritage Trust in the UK, Greenwich Hospital, The Not Forgotten, and Rebecca Day 360°.

“We are also extremely grateful for the warm welcome from the Gibraltar Government and those Military currently serving in the territory,” said Ms Sime..

The team will be in Gibraltar from May 14-22.

Race to the Sun cycle challenge

In addition to the Gibraltar Veterans Heritage Project, Alabaré have 12 amateur cyclists taking part in a Race to the Sun sponsored challenge.

This five-day event will see the participants cycle between 90 and 120kms each day to complete a 487 kilometre circular ride across Gibraltar and Andalucía, in Southern Spain.

The 12 riders range in age from late 20s to mid 60s, some of whom are veterans themselves or have family who have served, and will be assisted by a small support team and expert assistance from Saddle Skedaddle who are travelling along with them.

“After a relatively flat 40km start, the gradient will increase rapidly and will include category 1 ascents, totalling 8,600m through the glorious mountains of Andalucía in southern Spain,” said Ms Sime.

“Each has their own reasons for wanting to complete this daunting challenge, and each is passionate about raising vital funds towards Alabaré’s Homes for Veterans.”

The challenge is being led by Army veteran Major Ken Hames, who commanded an elite mountain unit during his career as well as spending time in Gibraltar.

He is passionate about ensuring veterans get the support they need if they struggling after leaving the Forces.

“Raising money for our homeless veterans, our veteran cyclists face a stiff test of stamina and endurance over mountains of Andalucía,” said Major Hames.

“This act of courage and care personifies our values in Alabaré bringing together a determined team who understand well our reasons for doing it.”

“The challenge is about teamwork and encouragement tackling Category 1 Tour de France type ascents and descents---this is a lot by anybody’s standards, and we salute and wish the team every success with a comfortable saddle.”

The cyclists range in terms of previous cycling experience but they are all amateurs who have each been individually training for this challenge.

Their only concern appears to be the size of the hills they will need to pedal up in hot weather conditions.

The route starts from Gibraltar, where the team will be waved off from Main Street by the Governor, Vice Admiral Sir David Steel.

From there they will travel through the Parqué Natural de la Sierra de Grazalema, and the foot hills of the Sierra de las Nieves around Ronda.

Along the route they will be visiting places such as Algar and Cortes de la Frontera, completing their epic journey back into Gibraltar on Friday May 20.

“They are looking forward to the challenge, but are all aware that they are facing some monumental ascents,” said Ms Sime.

That is not the only challenge facing the cyclists each rider was asked to raise a minimum of £3,550 to take part which will cover the costs of the trip as well as raise vital funds to help vulnerable Armed Forces veterans who have been, or faced, homelessness since leaving the Forces.

“Race to the Sun is raising vital funds to support Alabaré’s Homes for Veterans and their work helping vulnerable and homeless veterans regain their health and independence,” Ms Sime said.

“Our charity provides supported accommodation for veterans at risk of homelessness; self-build programmes for veterans to help build their own home whilst gaining skills in the construction industry; and outdoor activities to support mental well-being.”

“Race to Sun is grateful for the generous sponsorship of several organisations including Admiral, Ibex Insurance, Rebecca Day 360°.”

“We would also like to thank the many organisations in the UK and Gibraltar who are supporting our team during this event and without whom the event would not have been possible.”

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