Sunderland veterans’ charity appealing for help to retain its headquarters

Veterans in Crisis is based in Sunderland, opposite the Wheatsheaf pub in Roker Avenue.


VETERANS In Crisis (VIC), a charity dedicated to helping ex-servicemen living in Sunderland, is continuing its work despite the Covid-19 pandemic – and asking for your help.

VIC was set up in 2018 after founder and veteran Ger Fowler, a former Durham Light Infantry soldier, realised there was no support system in Sunderland for retired service people and their families. 

“I used to work for a homeless charity,” he said. “I found a veteran who was in his 70s and he was having to move out because they were closing [his home] down. 

“I met him and asked why he was there, as it was full of alcoholics, drug addicts and criminals, and he told me that he had tried to kill himself and then they put him in there and he didn’t know where else he could go. 

“I told him he could leave, but he wasn’t on the right benefits either. So I sorted his benefits, got him an anchor property for over 55s and got him moved; it only took me two-to-three weeks to do all that. 

“I realised that there must be more people like this, so I looked into it and decided to set up my own charity, that has gone from strength to strength.”

Mr Fowler added: “People think that when you are homeless you just need a house, but that is just the start. Things can get worse once you have a house, because you have social isolation… you can do drugs or drink without anyone knowing. 

“So getting them housed is simple, what we do is help them with the other problems.” 

With the Covid pandemic affecting everyone, services like VIC, which won the ‘Highly Commended’ award in the Community Group Category at the 2019 Best of Wearside awards, are needed more and more.

“We are very busy at the moment, but with Covid we are having to do a lot of things remotely. We are allowed six people in therapy sessions, we are still doing fitness with our fitness coach Sam Neil – but she is only able to do one-to-ones,” said Mr Fowler.

“The art therapy is allowed three or four people in at a time. It is brilliant because we have had money come from the Army covenant, which means we have been able to decorate the building with art. 

“We have also had a new sign designed, and stuff put on the side of the building, which is really good. A lot of the stuff has had to be done remotely; we have had to get laptops and notebooks for clients so that they could do things remotely. 

“For the art club, we had to drive around and drop the materials off so they could do it virtually. We have had to improvise – which is something that you learn when you are in the Forces!”

The biggest battle that VIC has had to battle over the last few years has been its need to buy its premises in Roker Avenue, Sunderland, as they were put up for sale after it moved in.

A total of £120,000 was needed, and the charity is now well on its way to reaching that figure.

“We are over halfway there with the funding to buy the building and we are hoping to have everything done by March 2021,” said Mr Fowler. “The light is definitely at the end of the tunnel. For most of the last year I have thought that when I was coming into the building in the morning, that we would be locked out, even though we were told it wouldn’t happen. 

“I am now in a position that I know we will have the building in March, which is a weight off not only my mind, but all of our clients’ as well.”

Mr Fowler was keen to stress that there are options for veterans, and as someone who suffered with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), he knows there is a need for services.

“There are services for people when they leave the Army but they don’t know where it is or how to get it,” he said. “In Sunderland there wasn’t anything, because there was no British Legion in Sunderland. 

“That means you need to get a Metro to Newcastle, or find a way of getting there, which is hard if you are homeless or struggling. 

“You need the internet, or a mobile phone. It can be hard if you have issues: how can you get to Newcastle if you don’t have any resources? That is why I set this up – because there wasn’t anything here for our veterans in Sunderland.”

If you’d like to help Mr Fowler’s charity keep its headquarters open, you can do so by clicking here. 

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.