A WOODLAND retreat is thriving after receiving £70,000 in funding from the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust.

Belisama’s Retreat on the outskirts of Preston was set up four years ago by a former Blackburn resident to support veterans’ mental health by “taking them back to nature”.

Paul Marriott, 50, known as JP, invested his army pension into the four-acre woodland after serving 14 years with the Royal Artillery.

“There are veterans who are alive today because this place has saved them,” he said.

“When you are in the services you don’t get the chance to experience the nature around you because you are there for a reason.

“Coming here takes veterans back but without the pressure and they can take their time to appreciate their surroundings.”

Together with co-director Steve Robinson, a Royal Signals veteran, volunteers have been working to remove dead trees and dig trenches to dry out the land but have been unable to pay staff or buy materials to make significant improvements.

The group say the new funding has allowed them to buy materials and start building major improvements to the site, including access steps, handrails and rainproof canvas to hold back the Lancashire rain.

In 2015 the government launched the Covenant Fund - a £10 million annual fund to provide projects with funding as part of the Armed Forces Covenant.

Ian Barber, project lead for Lancashire Armed Forces Covenant Hub, said: “Covenant funding can achieve significant impact on the lives of military veterans through small but effective projects like Belisama’s Retreat.

“They are doing great work with groups and individuals to improve their mental health and overall quality of life."

John, a Royal Artillery veteran who did not to be identified, served for nine years before his undiagnosed PTSD triggered drink and drug abuse, resulting in homelessness.

He was referred to a veterans’ support group, which visited Belisama’s Retreat last summer.

“It was just such a fantastic place,” he said. “A couple of months down the line of being sober I relapsed and got kicked out of home and was made homeless.

“All I could think was that I had to get to Belisama’s Retreat. I spent three days in Preston trying to find it, stayed in a hotel one night just so I could shower, and then when I got there spent a few weeks living in the woods."

Chef Tony, who served in the RAF for a short period, came to the project for help with stress and anxiety after he resigned from his job in December.

He described the retreat as a “sanity sanctuary” and said he is “like a different person”.