London Mayor opens Veterans Aid’s £8.2m residential facility

September 4, 2018
A four-year, £8.2m project to create a flagship facility for veterans in crisis was unveiled on September 7th when Mayor of London Sadiq Khan formally opened Veterans Aid’s New Belvedere House.

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London

The Mayor said, “It is completely unacceptable that anyone in London – including veterans of our armed services – should have to sleep rough. The refurbished New Belvedere House will help Veterans Aid continue their invaluable work helping to ensure no UK veteran needs to sleep rough in the capital, and I am pleased to be supporting their unique programme. We know that to truly end rough sleeping we need a step-change in investment from the Government and an honest commitment to address the root causes of homelessness and help prevent it in the first place.”

The project’s delivery followed four years of fundraising and a number of significant public grants – notably from the Chancellor, using LIBOR funds – also the GLA and the Independent/Evening Standard Homeless Veterans Campaign. Financial support was augmented by donation of 3,800 hours of voluntary labour by 750 Bloomberg employees.

CEO of Veterans Aid Dr Hugh Milroy said, “Thanks to the vision and generosity of donors, large and small, we have been able to create a flagship facility. The completion of this project is a landmark in the Charity’s 86-year history. It is a building that has been designed around delivery of our highly effective Welfare to Wellbeing© process. Raising the money necessary to fund this redevelopment, while remaining operational, was a huge challenge, but we are delighted with the results.”

New Belvedere House opened in 1973 and by mid 2018 it had provided accommodation for around 1,500 veterans who might otherwise have been homeless. When the redevelopment project was first mooted, in 2014, the building was 41-years-old. Its infrastructure was deteriorating and significant expenditure was required simply to halt further decline. Veterans Aid took the decision to make a virtue of necessity by extending, refurbishing and enhancing it.

This coincided with work the charity had been undertaking to develop a more holistic approach to ‘helping and healing’ and in January 2014 a pilot project was launched with the generous support of interior designers Oliver Burns whose mantra ‘Thoughtful luxury’ was applied to transforming two recreation areas at NHB. This first integration of environmental impact into the recovery process proved highly successful.

New Belvedere House, which is wholly owned and operated by Veterans Aid , now offers accommodation for 66 homeless, or imminently homeless, ex-servicemen in premises that make the designation ‘hostel’ inappropriate. The facility provides a physical environment that at last matches the quality of care and support that has accounted for its year on year 90% success rate.

Phase One

Phase One was completed in early 2016 and the first 12 residents moved into the refurbished Old Rectory Annex. Their first official visitor was HRH The Duke of Edinburgh.

“For those who spend time there NBH is a home,” said Dr Milroy. “It is place of warmth and light, comfort and security, but it is not a refuge. This charity is a powerhouse of expertise and NBH is a place of energy and change where problems are dealt with and sustainable solutions brokered.”

To this end the new-look NBH features a training kitchen, IT suite, fully equipped gym, and therapy rooms as well as areas for reading, recreation and reflection; this latter in the form of outside space surrounded by sensory ‘living walls’.

Dr Milroy said, “The investment in NBH was made with a view to breaking the mould and creating a 21st Century facility of an unparalleled standard, every aspect of which would play a part in affirming safety, support and success. It was designed to create an uplifting environment that would complement the practical support on offer by presenting it alongside learning and fitness resources, in surroundings that encouraged relaxation, stimulation and socialisation.”

VA’s first premises were secured in 1931, when the Charity was granted a lease on 59a Belvedere Road, Embankment, at a rental of £1. In 1948 it relocated to 159 Tulse Hill, later renamed Belvedere House. This amalgamation of five houses accommodated 120 men. It included workshops (where occupational training was provided by LCC instructors), a billiard room fully equipped theatre, clothing store – and a terrace overlooking the Thames. In 1973 this temporary residential and support role transferred to Stepney with the purchase of ‘New’ Belvedere House.

Forty-five years later the ‘new’ building was showing its age so plans to structure and fund a phased development were put in place.

Dr Milroy said, “Raising this money was a daunting prospect at the outset, but we were committed to making it happen and our supporters have not let us down. This charity changes lives and although the Victoria Operations Centre is VA’s public face, its heart is New Belvedere House.

“Our vision for the redevelopment was part of the charity’s five-year strategy and plan. We had to look at a project that enabled us to build on success without over-stretching us financially or diverting funds needed for delivery of ongoing, core business at our Operations Centre. We also wanted the impact to be minimal on those living in the NBH throughout the build.

“Staff and residents had to contend with noise, dust and often significant disruption to routine but, to us, even temporary closure was unthinkable.”

An average of £9k a year is spent on an NBH resident. Typically, veterans stay 9.6 months before leaving to start independent lives. At this stage they are equipped with the skills required to look after themselves personally (via nutrition awareness , money management, CV writing, benefits advice) and financially (via skills training, education or work placement).

For everyone who ‘moves on’, clean, safe accommodation is secured; where necessary it is re-decorated and new furniture is bought. No resident leaves until staff are satisfied that the home he is preparing to move into is appropriate to his needs and sustainable.

Dr Milroy said, “There have been ‘veterans in crisis’ since war-fighting began; but what we see, year in, year out, at Veterans Aid are men and women struggling with largely societal problems. The ex-servicemen and women who seek our help are homeless, hungry, unemployed, dealing with addictions, alcoholism and social isolation. They are not in trouble because of military service.”

Forces Radio BFBS’ Tim Humphries attended the formal opening of New Belvedere House and spoke to Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London and Dr Hugh Milroy, Veterans Aid CEO: