A cosy café set up to primarily help former forces veterans needs more people to support it.

Tommy’s Lounge was set up in one of Huddersfield’s finest buildings on Station Street just off St George’s Square last September and has already been a vital lifeline to former forces personnel.

But it was recently hit with a large power bill plus other costly overheads which has left it struggling to pay with owner Jennie Thorn’s partner, former Regimental Sergeant Major Mick Riley, having to fund a large part of it from his work as a lorry driver.

A gofundme page has now been set up at https://www.gofundme.com/f/tommys-lounge to help cover its costs and get back on track.

Tommy’s Lounge was set up by Jennie, a sports therapist who has helped amputees and people with severe injuries learn to have confidence in themselves again.

She had already set up Behind The Heroes community interest company in Mirfield to help former veterans, especially those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or struggling to get back into civilian life.

But she knew that veterans across Kirklees and further afield need somewhere they can meet most days and so set up Tommy’s Lounge with her mum, Sue Longbottom. Both have worked in catering for many years and the lounge serves food and drinks … but no alcohol.

Mick Riley and Jennie Thorn

Jennie said: “Many veterans struggle with alcohol and so we made the conscious decision to make the lounge alcohol free. It really is like a lounge with an old wooden table where people can eat surrounded by comfy settees.”

It is thought to be the only place of its kind in the UK but needs more support to make it viable.

Jennie said: “It’s one of a kind, the first of a kind and, hopefully, not the last of its kind. We are open to anyone, not just veterans. We have civilians who come in and are transfixed by the stories some of the veterans tell them about their time serving their country.”

The veterans have also helped to give the place its own unique feel by donating maps, army tunics, RAF uniform, berets and lots of other military memorabilia for the lounge.

One of the army uniforms was donated by Guardsman Alex Harrison (pictured below) who was badly injured serving with the Grenadier Guards in Afghanistan in May 2007.

While raiding a Taliban compound he was shot in the head with the bullet entering behind his right ear and exiting through his right eye.

His injuries left him unable to talk but before he collapsed he managed to draw a map in the sand of the enemy positions which led to a change in tactics and the target was bombed instead, potentially saving the lives of several other British soldiers. Alex completely lost his eye and suffered brain damage.

The lounge has already made a positive impact on many veterans’ lives … even saving some from despair, isolation and thoughts of ending it all.

One, Beno, who served for 17 years in the Parachute Regiment, said the lounge had helped him through some tough times with his mental health over the past year.

He said: “Without Tommy’s Lounge I wouldn’t be here today and I wouldn’t have the state of mind I’ve got now which is looking positive for the future. If I ever feel down I come here for support and ease of mind you don’t find anywhere else. It’s a must keep.”

Jennie’s partner now is Mick Riley, MBE, who served in the army for 27 years, and struggled to adjust to civilian life after he had been a regimental sergeant major in the Royal Logistical Corps. He’d been responsible for hundreds of soldiers but once he retired struggled to find anything better than low paid jobs.

He went on a downward, self-destructive spiral as he struggled to see a meaningful future for himself.

After a failed suicide attempt he reached a crossroads in life and found a positive way forward managing safe houses for veterans on the Wirral near Liverpool.

He met Jennie when he was referred to Behind The Heroes and has moved over to live with her in Mirfield. He works as a long distance lorry driver but part of his wages are now going to keeping Tommy’s Lounge open.

Inside Tommy’s Lounge. Pic by: Andy Hirst

Mick, 46, has battled testicular cancer, had lymphatic cancer twice and was awarded the MBE for giving talks about testicular cancer to soldiers across the UK and Germany.

When he was serving in Afghanistan he even organised a 26-mile marathon over the rough terrain around Camp Bastion to raise awareness and funds for the website checkemlads.com he set up with a fellow cancer sufferer where testicular cancer survivors can share information and personal experiences.

Jennie said veterans talking to other veterans in the safety and comfort of somewhere like Tommy’s Lounge can be very cathartic for them.

She, Sue and Mick have helped some veterans who have turned up at a crisis point in their lives and can help them to get mental health counselling at organisations like Platform One in Huddersfield which is in the same building.

They can also give advice on food banks, housing and benefits, among many others.

The café is just off St George’s Square just a few yards from the Harold Wilson Statue and a minute’s walk from Huddersfield Railway Station. One couple even travelled up from Kent for the day to visit the lounge.

It’s open from 7am to 2pm Tuesday to Friday and from 10am to 3pm on Saturdays so is an ideal spot for early morning commuters to pop in for a drink or cooked breakfast. Their speciality is German Bratwurst and Currywurst as many of the veterans served in Germany.

Jennie with Lola. Pic by: Andy Hirst

Some veterans groups now use it as a meeting base and it can be used by groups outside the normal opening hours. It has free Wi-Fi, dominoes, cards and board games.

There’s also Jennie’s dog, Lola the Patterdale terrier, for veterans in need of a little animal therapy.

Jennie has also set up a scheme so people can buy a veteran a drink or a meal paid for in advance and dozens have now done this.

The close camaraderie of the forces is very much in evidence in the lounge. Two regulars sadly died just before Christmas – 85-year-old Ray Williams from the Colne Valley who had flown Lancasters and Vulcans in the RAF and John Tracey who had served in the army.

When the veterans had their Christmas meal in the lounge on Christmas Eve there were two empty chairs at the table as a sign of respect to honour their missing comrades.

It’s a tradition they will continue.

To find out more about Tommy’s Lounge go to the website at http://bit.ly/3IxQ4uk or Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/TommysLoungeHuddersfield?locale=ms_MY

They are also on TikTok at https://www.tiktok.com/@tommyslounge

  • Written by ANDY HIRST who runs his own Yorkshire freelance journalism agency AH! PR (https://ah-pr.com/) specialising in press releases, blogging, website content and copywriting.