Local Veterans Tackling a 100-Mile Walk to Raise Awareness

Gareth Haikney, Andy Bett and Neil Metters are the veterans that are not only just tackling Helvellyn, which is over 3,000ft but also walking back to Sunderland. This journey is going to be just over 100 miles and they plan to do this in three days between 9 and 11 December. 

Gareth served in the army for five and a half years, and did a few operational tours but has also lost a few friends through suicide or those who have been killed in action. Since his service, he has always tried to give back when he could such as doing the CEO sleepout alongside Neil, Walking with the Wounded and doing work towards Help for the Heroes in the past. 

Walking with the Wounded was established in 2010 and it is a leading military charity which recognises those who served, deserve They get those who’ve served- and their families- back on their feet and focus on four things. Employment, mental health, care coordination and volunteering. 

Originally, the group were only going to Helvellyn but when he spoke to the fundraising assistant, Heather Perkins from Walking with the Wounded, at the CEO sleepout she was trying to convince him to do something for their current event #WalkingHomeforChristmas.

Gareth said: “ Me being me I came back to work and was like why don’t we just tie that in… why don’t we go up Helvellyn and let’s just walk all the way back home and we’ll finish at the veteran’s wall in Mowbray Park. The reason I wanted to do this was because, it was my 40th birthday this year and my family all chipped in to get me a stone on the Veterans Wall but what they didn’t tell me was that my late grandad’s stone is next to mine”. 

He has deep ties with the military with some of his friends still serving and he still speaks to them regularly. However, an inspirational figure in his life was his late grandad who was a Tail End Charlie in the Lancaster Bombing in World War II and was also part of the Dresden Bombing Campaign which was something he never got over. Gareth said: “Going back to the 40s ultimately PTSD was never a thing and something that anybody wanted to talk about but I know he carried that throughout his entire life”. 

Gareth opened up and said that he has had to seek help in the past due to a culmination of events that caused him to hit bottom. However, he had a support network of friends and family gathered around him and were there for him when he needed it. However, he knows that not everybody has that luxury which is why he agreed to work alongside Walking with the Wounded as their ethos focuses on providing help. 

He said” I know for a fact that a lot of people still struggle with things and don’t know where to go for help or don’t know who to speak to and end up going down a horrible path that is really difficult to recover from. I want to do this to raise awareness, give back to people and make sure people who have served know there are options available to them”. 

They have received support from local businesses in Sunderland including Port of Call who are providing them food and drink at the end of their journey, Interlink Scaffolding Limited (ISL) who are providing the mini-bus that their support driver, Jamie Caine, will be driving and carrying their gear followed by Tandem Contracts which is his dad’s business. 

Furthermore, they plan to arrive back in Sunderland on Sunday 11 December at 4 pm where their friends, families and Walking with the Wounded will be joining them at Mowbray Park to congratulate them on their 100-mile walk and show support. Anyone is welcome to join and they encourage any local businesses to get involved if they wish. 

They have a live fundraising page where you can support Gareth, Andy, Neil and Jamie with donations that are going towards a fantastic cause. You can make donations here