Wigan’s long-awaited new armed forces hub has been launched with much pomp and ceremony.
Falklands War hero Simon Weston CBE and Andy Reid, who lost both legs and his right arm while on duty in Afghanistan, were among the honoured guests to perform the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
What used to be called Withnall House on School Lane will now be called Molyneux House in tribute to the brave Wigan submariner Lt Cdr Ian Molyneux who was killed trying to tackle a rampaging gunman aboard his craft.
His widow Gillian was among the proud onlookers.
The hub, which will be called Wigan Borough Armed Forces headquarters, hopes to bring everything those who have served the country and their families need under one roof and also contains a new base for Wigan Sea Cadets in an arrangement believed to be the first of its kind.
The town hall also pulled out all the stops for the opening day, with a visual World War One hospital display complete with military vehicles, tents and a simulation dome to give visitors an immersive insight into trench life a century ago.
Its timing couldn’t have been better, being on the eve of the Amistice centenary.
Wigan Council leader Coun Molyneux, who also took part in the opening ceremony, said: “We are thrilled that an opening date for the hub is now here and we look forward to the fantastic support the hub will offer.
“Although the hub will provide invaluable services for serving personnel, ex-forces and their families, we’re also keen to involve the community too as this interaction is vital in supporting veterans in their transition back into civilian life.
“We’re actively encouraging local community groups to operate from some of the rooms and for local people to volunteer their time to make the hub the best it can be.
“Not only will this be a beneficial facility for Wigan residents but also the wider Greater Manchester armed forces community and is another great example of how we are leading the way.”
Charities and organisations including the Royal British Legion (RBL), Blind Veterans UK and Healthier Heroes CIC will work from the HQ and will also be promoting their services at the unveiling.
The facility will help ex-servicemen and women with finding employment and sorting out finances after life in the forces as well as being a place for like-minded people to socialise.
Work has been done in two phases, with the old Withnall House building completely transformed and a corridor created to link it to a new extension.
Wigan Council has pledged £500,000 to the hub with the Ministry of Defence chipping in £100,000 and the sale of the sea cadets’ old HQ providing £140,000.
There will also be therapy rooms, classrooms, social space and meeting rooms.
Ian Almond from Wigan Sea Cadets said: “We are excited that the official opening is now only a stone’s throw away and are very happy about the work we’ve been undertaking in the cadet building over recent weeks to build up to this point.
“We have been establishing ourselves here and have had fantastic feedback from the public.”
Alison Bunn from the RBL said: “It will act as a focal point for serving individuals, veterans and their families so they can easily find information and will combat social isolation which is an issue for veterans of all ages.”
Withnall House wasn’t the first location to be earmarked for the hub.
Council chiefs had initially looked at using Wigan Market Hall but concerns were raised, not least by veterans, that it would struggle because of a lack of car parking and the big open space was was too open and public for ex-personnel to feel comfortable going there and sometimes discussing intensely personal issues.