A Surrey veteran living with the after effects of a well-known disease has found solace in the south east Cornwall countryside with Help for Heroes.
Ex-Navy Marine Engineer Kirk Hughes, known as Spike, was medically discharged from the Navy after contracting Meningitis in 2000 while on exercise. He has since suffered daily from Complex Regional Pain Syndrome; a nerve condition affecting his legs; and regularly uses a wheelchair.
Spike explained: “The illness was bad. It almost completely halted my ability to do anything effectively. I managed through it eventually, but it left me in extreme pain with no real effective treatment to aid it. I’m in constant pain virtually every day.”
Spike joined 15 other veterans and serving military personnel recovering from physical and mental wounds on a health and wellbeing retreat at Pentillie Castle and Estate in Cornwall earlier this month.
The week-long residential was packed with activities including bike trails, arts and crafts, cookery, swimming, yoga, reflexology, golf, clay pigeon shooting, archery and more. All of the activities were selected by staff from Help for Heroes’ Plymouth Recovery Centre to benefit the mind and body in each individual’s recovery journey.
Spike approached Help for Heroes after hearing about the Invictus Games, initially looking to apply for the sporting event and was encouraged to sign up for the Band of Brothers fellowship. He soon realised how much the Charity offers and turned to them when he realised a break from home would be beneficial for himself and his family.
“The more involved I got with Help for Heroes, the more I realised that actually, I could really do with some help. I applied for the Pentillie Castle retreat as I thought it would be nice to go out and meet other veterans in a relaxing environment, doing new things.
“Help for Heroes agreed that it was a good idea for me to go and I needed it, and that was a really good feeling, almost like a feeling of understanding.
“The main reason I wanted to go, apart from the actual programme, was respite. I have two kids at home and I’m a full-time shift worker. I also wanted to give my family a bit of a rest from me too!”
Spike had the chance to take part in multiple activities which he enjoyed alongside the social element of spending time with other wounded, injured and sick military and ex-forces personnel.
“There are so many different people from different walks of life and yet there’s something we all have in common that is so innate, we all understand each other. After leaving the forces, that in itself is something brilliant.”
He was also able to put to use his hand-bike that Help for Heroes grant-funded.
“I really enjoy hand-cycling and have done for the last few years. It gets me out of the house and feeling mobile, which is not something that happens a lot any other way. The Cornish setting is beautiful and remote and the roads are perfect for it, albeit a little hilly!”
Spike credits Help for Heroes for the support he has received in recent years.
“The whole feel of the Charity is great. It’s very rare that someone says ‘just let me know if you need anything’ and actually means it. The organisation is just filled with great people and they offer opportunities like the Pentillie Castle retreat that just would not be available or accessible to someone like me if Help for Heroes weren’t here.”