A FORMER soldier and three companions spent last week cycling 200miles covering the length of the Western Isles to raise funds and awareness of Veteran charity Combat Stress.
Steve Newman, a farrier from Renfrewshire, served for 24 years with the Blues and Royals and it was his witnessing colleagues suffer following their military service, two of whom later took their own lives, that sparked the cycle challenge.
He was joined in the feat by Strathclyde Police officer Andrew Macleman, former police officer Bob Corbett and business consultant Richard Ferguson.
Speaking after the gruelling cycle, Andrew Macleman said: “The whole purpose of the cycle was to raise awareness for Combat Stress and assist with the charity’s Enemy Within Appeal.
“The demand for the charity’s services has increased by 72% in the last five years and it takes on average 13 years before military service men and women come forward and admit that they are suffering.”
Founded in 1919 to care for Veterans of World War I, Combat Stress saw a 10% increase in demand for its specialist services in 2011, receiving nearly 1,500 referrals.
And the leading UK military charity and service provider in the care of Veteran’s mental health is currently working on a case-load of over 4,800 Veterans, treating conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety and phobic disorders.
Last March, charity Patron HRH The Prince of Wales launched ‘The Enemy Within’ Appeal which aims, over three years, to help Veterans rebuild their lives by establishing 14 Community Outreach Teams nationwide, comprising of Mental Health Practitioners, Community Psychiatric Nurses and Regional Welfare Officers; as well as enhancing clinical treatment at the three Combat Stress short-stay treatment centres in Ayrshire, Shropshire and Surrey.
“We wanted to raise awareness of the charity, not only for the work that it does with ex-service men and women, but also the assistance it offers their families and friends during difficult times,” continued Andrew.
“It was a very concrete reason why we did the cycle and our minor worries about the climb up the Clisham were nothing when compared to those of our service men and women.”
As Andrew’s brother stays in Scarista and Steve’s wife’s family are from North Uist, related to the late Dr John Macleod, both men had previous experience of the Western Isles.
For Bob and Richard however, the cycle was their first trip to the islands. “I’m so pleased they got to see it and appreciate it at its best,” said Andrew. “The weather was fantastic and the Hebrides looked beautiful.”
Taking four days and travelling a total of 200 miles, the biking quartet successfully completed their challenge, as Andrew continued: “The first day was our longest cycle of 71 miles from Vatersay to Lochmaddy and on day three we cycled from Tarbert to Stornoway which was hard going as it was very hot and there were lots of hills.
“I think the worst place for me was through Lochs – the road just seemed to go on forever – and by then the tiredness was getting to me. If I’d been on my own I would have been struggling, but that’s where have a few of us together really helped.”
If you would like to help also and donate to the Combat Stress Western Isles cycle challenge, then please visit www.justgiving.com/cyclehebrides.
Andrew added: “We would like to say thanks to CalMac who provided us with Island Hopper tickets – we then put the money we’d have used to buy them onto our Just Giving site.
“Also, thanks to family, friends, colleagues and strangers who have all supported and donated to our cause. The people of the Western Isles were great and would stop us on the road and give us money.
“It really was a tough challenge but we very much enjoyed it and got such a sense of satisfaction knowing we were raising awareness and money for such an important cause.”