Yoxter Camp on the Mendips has become the first Army training area to offer overnight accommodation and facilities for wheelchair users, opening up huge opportunities for Cadets with disabilities.
A former range warden’s cottage has undergone a £60,000 refurbishment to make it compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act. The project has been paid for and managed by Wessex Reserve Forces & Cadets Association, which owns Yoxter Camp and the 885 acres around it.
The building is called ‘Richardson Lodge’ in memory of Colonel Paul Richardson who was Commandant of Somerset Army Cadet Force from 2011 to 2015 and who died suddenly last year.
Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of Somerset, Annie Maw, cut the ribbon and then handed over to Paul’s widow, Mary, who unveiled a plaque commemorating the official re-opening and renaming.
By coincidence, both Mrs Maw and Mrs Richardson are wheelchair users themselves and remarked on how appropriate it was for them to be performing the ceremonies together.
Mrs Maw said: “This place is close to Bath and Bristol and for so many Cadets it’s a complete contrast to city living. For those who have issues with disability then this place can give them a sense of adventure, perhaps for the first time they’ve been away from home.”
Brigadier Steve Hodder, chief executive of Wessex RFCA, said: “Our intention has been to take this near-derelict bungalow and turn it into something that would allow more flexible use of the whole camp.
“In particular, it will allow us to improve diversity within the Cadet force. Having multi-purpose accommodation with access and facilities for wheelchair users means we are now able to cater for disabled people. It also gives us extra bed spaces in this camp.”
Colonel Richardson, previously an officer in the Somerset and Cornwall Light Infantry, joined Somerset ACF as an adult volunteer in 1984. He was appointed Deputy Commandant in 2004 and seven years later became Commandant, a post he held until retiring in 2015.
His service to the ACF was distinguished by a determination to give Cadets opportunities they might never have had, such as the taking part in the Njmegen Marches, shooting for the Battalion at Bisley, or camping out at Yoxter.
Out of uniform, he was a fruit wholesaler and his interests included shooting and rugby.
Mrs Richardson, who was accompanied by their five sons at the ceremony, said: “I am so proud, because Paul loved the cadets. Even after his time as Commandant of Somerset Army Cadet Force, he continued to serve as a trustee on the Somerset ACF Trust.”
Yoxter is used by the Regular Army, the Royal Marines, the Reserves and Cadet forces, primarily for its eight-lane, 550-metre rifle range, but also for fieldcraft exercises as well as helicopter training and instruction in driving non-tracked vehicles.
The camp has billet accommodation for 150, storerooms, a kitchen, classrooms and toilet facilities. The work on Richardson Lodge included providing access for wheelchair users to the communal dining room.
Yoxter Camp was purchased with private donations in 1934 to provide a training facility for the Territorial Army. It remains in the ownership of Wessex RFCA and the training area environment is managed by Somerset Wildlife Trust.
The billet accommodation and facilities underwent refurbishment in 2012-13 and that programme of works has continued with an upgrade and improvement of the heating system.