Soldier's cabin rebuilt as 'safe space' for veterans
An ex-soldier has rebuilt a demolished cabin as a "safe space" for veterans struggling with mental health.
Mike Allen, 38, was originally living in the cabin near Crosskeys, Caerphilly county, which he had built without permission.
He said it helped him with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
But it was removed by officials in November last year and Natural Resources Wales (NRW) said it had been built "without our knowledge".
NRW said its officers visited the Crosskeys site three times before any action was taken and did not believe anyone was living there.
The cabin has been rebuilt at Mynyddislwyn near Blackwood.
The former soldier served with the Royal Welsh regiment until 2014, including in Afghanistan. After returning, he said he wanted to be away from society as he found it stressful.
But building any structure in the Welsh Government's forestry estate without permission is illegal, and Mr Allen said he was "devastated" when he saw his cabin had gone.
The new cabin is on land donated to Mr Allen by a private landowner, and its purpose is for veterans to use "should a bad day come".
He said: "It's somewhere that doesn't involve forms and a stranger asking you to tell them how bad your life is right now.
"I think we judge ourselves enough and, on that 'bad' day, individuals should be helped to feel safe and calm [and] not have their life dissected when unstable and of fragile mind."
Mr Allen is working with mental health charities, a personal trainer and NRW to give veterans a break from their everyday lives, and help reintroduce them to employment.
The cabin will host gym sessions, help veterans gain qualifications and work opportunities, and will eventually be used as a tree-planting centre for children.
Mr Allen, from Oakdale in Caerphilly county, has been working on it since December 2018.
"I'm extremely proud of what we've achieved," he said.
Peter Cloke, from NRW, said the demolition of Mr Allen's first cabin could have been handled better.
"I think you should always reflect on everything you do and look to improve. We're public servants and we have learnt lessons from it," he said.
"We've got such a large land holding across south Wales that we could find suitable sites for projects for the veterans.
"Ones that will help biodiversity, dry stone walling, tree planting, and recreation projects like improving footpaths."