Battle lines drawn in fight over closure as veterans gather 800 signatures to save Poppyscotland’s Strothers Lane drop-in centre in Inverness
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A worried army veteran has raised almost 800 signatures against the closure of a lifeline Inverness welfare centre for retired armed forces personnel.
Gordon Macmillan (67) said the loss of Poppyscotland’s Strothers Lane drop-in centre, confirmed last week, had left vulnerable ex-servicemen and women feeling “abandoned”.
The Hilton man’s petition calls for a rethink by London-based parent body The Royal British Legion.
The charity claimed the closures – with staff set to work remotely – were part of a UK reorganisation that would expand services. The MacRobert Centre has dealt with thousands of inquiries and many hundreds of veterans’ cases since opening in summer 2013.
Mr Macmillan, who served with the Gordon Highlanders in Singapore and Northern Ireland, drew on help after suffering heart, lung and other health issues.
He also credits face-to-face help from Poppyscotland staff for saving his life as he battled depression.
Late last year, the regular fundraising volunteer overcame breathing difficulties to complete a six-and-a-half mile walking challenge for the veterans’ charity, accompanied by a paramedic. Losing the trusted facility, he feels, could put many within the local veterans’ community at risk. They have been forced to switch regular meetings temporarily to Café 1668, a social enterprise in Church Street.
“I’m not happy. It’s not fair on staff or the veterans,” Mr Macmillan said. “All we’re left with is a telephone number or email address.
“It won’t stop us fundraising, but it does affect people who need help. We feel abandoned. Most of us are over 60 and a lot are over 70. We’re not the most computer-savvy folk and will miss the face-to-face element. It has been very secretive, with no consultation.”
Poppyscotland insisted the closure followed a period of consultation and was “part of a re-organisation of the charity’s vital, life-changing services”, to be expanded in coming months.
The charity’s chief executive Mark Collins said: “Poppyscotland will continue to have an ongoing presence in the north of Scotland. The services will be delivered in a different way, but staff will still be deeply embedded in their local communities.”
Local MP Drew Hendry said: “It should concern us all if veterans find themselves unable to access support locally. I have written to Poppyscotland to urge them to engage further on these proposals. All organisations need to review services, but it is reasonable that those affected feel adequately consulted. I hope Poppyscotland, an otherwise terrific charity, will revisit this and work with local veterans to come to a sensible outcome.”