ARMED forces veterans are helping transform a section of the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal as part of a support project.

The Canal and River Trust have partnered with Help for Heroes to offer veterans an opportunity to gain new skills and integrate back in to society.

The current four-week programme at Goytre Wharf, between Pontypool and Abergavenny, involves veterans building benches, a viewing platform and paths to allow easier access around the canal, as well as restoring the canal launching platform, and repairing pontoons and the fences.

The Canal and River Trust originally launched the programme alongside Help for Heroes in 2016, with the People’s Postcode Lottery funding the project.

And because of the success of the project, the trust has now decided to fund it itself.

Newport veteran Anthony Lock served with the Royal Welsh Regiment in Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. In Afghanistan in 2009 he was blown up by Improvised Explosive Devices twice in the space of six weeks.

He said the project is helping him recover physically and mentally, after he was left with brain damage and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“It’s helped me feel wanted again and helped me get my fitness back,” he said.

“I suffer from PTSD so for me to come out the house to do this it’s a big step.

“It’s helped me identify a career that I could go into and give something back to the community.

“Within Newport, we have a number of veterans. A lot of them are isolated or possibly feel like they don’t deserve the same treatment as other people, but we want to encourage them to take part.

“It helps the boys be themselves again, and you meet people with shared experiences.”

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(Anthony Lock and on-site facilitator for Help for Heroes Stuart Fry, working on the project with Band of Sisters member Dave, and veterans Keabetswe and Danny (L-R).)

One of the other veterans taking part in the project, Danny, had been left paralysed down one side after suffering a stroke.

“I couldn’t talk as well after my stroke,” he said. “I’m okay when I am talking about general stuff, but I completely lose it if I try to go in to more detail.

“It’s great being outside and being involved in the project. This is the first one I have been on.

“It is good being with guys who have suffered similar sorts of things.

“It’s all things that I am doing that I never thought I would be able to do again after my stroke.”

Another of the veterans, Keabetswe, was discharged last year.

“I’ve been working with Help for Heroes for some time, it keeps my mind relaxed," he said. "I heard about the canal project and thought it was a good idea as they would be getting veterans in.

“This is another way to say thank you for the support I have received as well as being out with the lads and to learning new stuff.

“To be part of this kind of project is nice and rewarding, being outside doing something has helped clear my mind.”

The project is not just for veterans, but also for people who care for veterans, known as the Band of Sisters. One member of the Band of Sisters, Dave, is taking part in the project.

“I got in to Band of Sisters as my son is an injured veteran - he lost his arm,” he said. “I wanted to help people out, so got involved with the project.

“This is the second one I have done. It gets me out and makes me feel useful.”

Stuart Fry, on-site facilitator for Help for Heroes, said: “There is not a lot of provision here in Wales for sick and wounded veterans. Here we have got the boys out doing some physical work, and hopefully they are learning new skills, along with benefitting the waterways.

“They get together with like-minded people who have had a shared experience.”