A traumatised soldier who built a mountainside castle as a haven is using it to help other veterans battle their demons as the UK faces a “mental health crisis”.
Mikey Allen, 41, says his therapy fort is busier than ever as psychologically scarred military personnel face the added of pressure of the pandemic.
The ex-lance corporal was diagnosed with PTSD after watching friends killed by bombs in Afghanistan.
Back home Mikey’s marriage fell apart and he began sleeping rough before moving to a remote cabin he built on Mynyddislwyn mountain in Caerphilly County, Wales.
“I came back a different person,” he explained. “I suffered with flashbacks, self-destructive tendencies, depression, homelessness, poverty, suicidal thoughts and behaviours.”
After finding solace in his cabin it was later knocked down due to a lack of planning permission. A local farmer offered him space to start again.
Using natural local resources Mikey spent three years building his fort, which is the base of his organisation, Endex.
Now it offers courses to help struggling veterans rebuild their lives – including mental health coaching, employment training, animal care and family activities.
So far, more than 2,500 current and former services personnel and military widows have visited.
Special needs children, stroke survivors and NHS staff are among the
civilians who have also benefitted.
“We are in a mental health crisis,” said Mikey, who swears by the healing power of being surrounded by nature.
“With the Covid-19 lockdowns having a huge impact on many people’s deteriorating mental health, our work and services matter more than ever before.
“There was a significant increase in people visiting during lockdown, many of these being families.”
He added: “It promotes self-growth, development, belief and positive stimulation to achieving goals, surrounded by nature with people willing to listen and understand, to give encouragement and options.
“I guess it has given people inspiration to create their own goals and engage with nature whilst having to hike a large hill to reach the castle.”
Mikey, who is writing a book about his experiences, added: “From being on my last legs, struggling to live, rebuilding gave me goals I could achieve every day.
“I had no phone, no TV, no radio. Spending so much time in nature, completely isolated from outside pressures, allowed me to find myself again.”