A few months ago, the Royal British Legion announced that they were planning to shut down all four Break Centres which they operate nationally.
They explained that this was part of a cost-cutting exercise and the break centre at Byng House, which has served veterans in Southport for decades, would be included. I’m bitterly disappointed that they have taken the decision to close it down.
Byng House has provided respite to veterans and serving armed forces personnel, as well as their families and carers, for years. It has brought thousands of people to our town and provided them with an opportunity to experience a holiday, alongside as the time and facilities they need to properly rest and recuperate.
The announcement of the closure came as a blow not only to all those who come and visit Southport through Byng House, but also to all the staff who work there, and to the wider community.
Following the announcement, I met with the Royal British Legion’s Director General, Charles Byrne, to ask him to reconsider the decision and I asked him to write to me to explain more about the reasoning behind the closure. I’ve now received a reply from Mr Byrne, which I found disappointing. The rationale, I believe, overlooked a number of serious issues.
Firstly, there was no consideration of the fact that one of the reasons why our town is so generous in giving to the Royal British Legion is because we are proud of our local break centre and want to support the work that they do. I would imagine that without Byng House - such a driver of generosity - the money received by the Legion from local residents will decrease, a situation which nobody wants.
Secondly, the impact upon the mental health of those veterans, armed forces personnel, and their families who rely on both the services and facilities Byng House offers appears to have been overlooked, which I would have thought to be paramount. Not only this, but the research the Legion undertook before taking this decision seems to have understated the value of the work the Break Centre does in combatting loneliness, PTSD, and anxiety – all of which cannot be valued in solely monetary terms.
I have written back to Mr Byrne setting out my disappointment and requesting a more direct explanation to those who have devoted many years to this great break centre.
I will also be discussing the matter further with the Minister for Defence, People and Veterans in the coming weeks to ensure those who have come to rely on Byng House continue to receive any support they might need.