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22 September 2016
Two Winchester charities which support homeless people are to share in a £1 million windfall donation following the closure of a military charity.
Winchester Churches Nightshelter and Trinity Winchester will each receive £500,000 "to relieve the needs of people who are at risk of becoming socially excluded."
The story of the windfall is a tale of one man's vision combined with family heartbreak. But the money will enable both charities to expand their work with local homeless and vulnerable people at a time when demand for their services is becoming increasingly complex.
The charity (DEFLOG VQ Trust) began 20 years ago as a small project to provide vocational qualifications for soldiers to help them find work in civilian life. It was the brainchild of Brigadier Tom Blyth, then Commanding Officer of the Defence School of Transport.
"I could see that our logistics personnel in a wide range of trades, had valuable skills that were not recognised outside of the military.
"The new system of NVQs, later to become Modern Apprenticeships, gave us the means to provide nationally-recognised qualifications for soldiers."The project was first directed at the Army's logistic personnel but grew quickly to also serve the logistic trades of the Army's engineers, gunners, signallers, and of the RAF and Royal Marines.
Brigadier Blyth retired in 2000 and formed the educational charity, DEFLOG VQ Trust Ltd, with its headquarters in Beverley, Yorkshire. He has remained an unpaid trustee, sometime Chairman, throughout the last 20 years, in which the Trust has delivered over 35,000 apprenticeships and over 50,000 individual qualifications in nearly 100 locations across the world.
The Army has decided that this training will now be provided by a global corporate provider, and the Trust will close. Its assets will be distributed to other organisations including educational and welfare charities in Yorkshire and to military charities. The Winchester link is connected to the forthcoming move of the Army's Royal Logistic Corps to new barracks being built at Worthy Down.
But it is also testimony to the help, care and support that Brigadier Blyth's son Ben found in the City when he was homeless and suffering from a complicated and incurable mental health condition which eventually led to his death in 2010 at the age of 33.
A memorial bench on St Giles' Hill remembers him in the words "Gentle, kind and generous: he touched many hearts and found great kindness in this city".
Ben went to school in Dorset and to Peter Symonds College in Winchester before gaining an HND at college in Cheltenham. He was dyslexic, long before the condition was fully recognised and addressed in schools. Education and subsequent working life was not easy. His father continued:
"After spending many years struggling to find his place in the world, he slowly and imperceptibly fell victim to the mental illness that would eventually claim him. For the final years of his life Ben made himself homeless, at first in London and later in Winchester.
Determinedly independent, Ben regularly refused hostel accommodation, medical intervention and government benefits, choosing to live a lifestyle where he was in control and able to make his own choices. After the harsh years on the streets in London he found help, care and compassion from the many charities that so distinguish Winchester as a place of Christian Charity, including the Nightshelter and the Trinity Centre.
In his last nine months he seemed to have turned a corner, becoming less insular, more rational, even saying that he didn't want to spend another winter outdoors... we hoped that he would finally accept help."
But it was not to be. Ben died in Winchester in the summer of 2010. His death shocked and saddened many people in and around the City. The Dean and Reverend Canon St John-Channell kindly agreed to hold Ben's funeral service in the Cathedral. The service was attended by over 200 people who knew Ben or who had professional and personal concern for people experiencing homelessness or mental health issues.
Ben's father concluded: "Ben's story is very complex, yet it is shared by others who are homeless today. Some have a background in the Armed Forces. Many are desperate and damaged by mental illness, family breakdown, poverty, and abuse. The trustees of DEFLOG VQ Trust and I are honoured to help Trinity Winchester and the Winchester Churches Nightshelter to continue their work in the city."
Nightshelter Manager, Michele Price said: "Ben was a delightful young man whose gentleness and kindness touched so many of the people who worked with him. His story shows how homelessness really can happen to anyone. Sometimes severe mental illness puts people beyond the reach of even the strongest ties of family love and support. We are seeing a huge increase in the number of people affected by complex mental health issues and if we can use this funding to alleviate that in some way it will be a lasting tribute to Ben."
Sue McKenna, Operations Director at Trinity Winchester said: "We are so grateful for this life-changing donation. The trustees of DEFLOG VQ have been long-term supporters of our work, and this sum could transform the services that we provide to homeless and vulnerable people in Winchester. In times when it is becoming more difficult to secure funding, receiving this amount of money is crucial in the continuation and development of our services. A particular thank you to Tom Blyth for his recognition of our work."Back