D&S column: better homes for our Armed Forces families

Our Armed Forces work incredibly hard to keep our nation safe, and so it is only right that they have a place they feel proud to call home.

So it was a real pleasure to return to the Garrison with Defence Secretary Ben Wallace to jointly announce extra funding for improvements to service accommodation.

This latest £200m investment across the UK will benefit thousands of our Forces personnel and their families, providing the standard of living they deserve.

From new kitchens and bathrooms to structural repairs, the work will start this summer and also provide a welcome employment boost for the skilled tradespeople involved.

It was good to spend some time with the families to hear about the difference this will make to their lives in the future but also to talk about their experiences of the last five months.

Many Catterick-based personnel have carried out vital work in the battle against Covid-19, from working at speed to build the Nightingale hospital at Harrogate to providing military planning skills to the NHS, logistical support and assisting with the regional testing programme.

They have all done an amazing job during difficult times and I thanked them for their stalwart service.

Although this is a national announcement, it is of particular importance to Catterick Garrison as it grows over the next few years.

The numbers of military personnel based at Catterick are going to increase to around 8,400 by 2030 from the 5,700 currently there.

Their dependents will mean an additional 5,700 wives, partners and children and by 2032 Catterick Garrison will be the third-biggest community in North Yorkshire.

A great deal of work has been done locally on planning for the expansion. I have followed this closely and recently supported our local health chiefs as they put the finishing touches to the plan for a new integrated health care hub for the Garrison.

This hub will look after Armed Forces personnel, their families and the wider civilian population of Catterick and Richmondshire as a whole, providing improved GP access and a wide range of other health services.

It is an exciting time for the Garrison and one aspect of the changes that I have found really pleasing in my time as your MP is how the military and civilian populations have continued to come together through the development of joint-use facilities, like the retail parks and the leisure centre.

The Richmond area’s association with the military is, of course, long-established. The local Green Howards regiment museum is in the town and earlier this month opened its doors to visitors once more.

I called in to see how the museum was faring, the Covid-19 safety measures they have put in place and the fascinating new displays. Lockdown presented the museum with the opportunity to complete going through its collections and bring out objects which are not normally displayed – like particularly fragile items that would be damaged if on permanent display.

Treasures in Store is the result – a beautifully put together exhibition telling some of the very personal and touching stories about Green Howards and their loved ones in past conflicts.

I can highly recommend it. It runs until the end of the year and now is a great time to see it. Adult admission prices to the museum have been halved to just £3 at least until the end of August.