THE gift of an oak tree has inspired more than 70 wounded military veterans to create something special in a unique project – a 27-foot long Viking boat.

Men and women who have been physically or psychologically scarred while serving their country with the Armed Forces have taken part in the ambitious project, following the donation of a felled oak tree from a local farmer to Phoenix House Recovery Centre in Catterick Garrison.

Woodshop manager Bob Marshall, who dreamt up the idea of building a Viking boat, said: “Everyone looks at the wonderful things that are produced in here from rocking horses to guitars and furniture restoration but it’s not about the wood – it’s a bi-product of what we do.

“What we want is for people to re-engage, feel good about themselves and accept that they can achieve things that they never imagined possible before. It’s a first step in their recovery to breaking down barriers in other areas of their lives.”

He added: “The veteran who’s been shaping and carving the rudder has an acquired brain injury. The reason we’ve given him such a prominent piece to work on is that he’ll be able to identify it and when it sets sail later this year, he’ll be able to point it out to his children and say proudly ‘I made that’.”

One of the veterans helping build the boat is John Newcombe, who suffers from primary progressive multiple sclerosis, in getting a wheelchair which moves him from a sitting to an upright position so he can now reach items from a high shelf, stand up at the bar of a pub and hug his wife, Claire.

He said: “I do woodwork at home but it’s been fantastic working on the Viking boat and learning new skills, I’m now hoping to achieve professional woodturning qualifications here too.”

Mr Newcombe spent a week with Help for Heroes at Calvert Trust outdoor activities centre in the Lake District and looks forward to visiting Phoenix House, Help for Heroes’ recovery centre in the North.

The Viking boat team has enlisted the help of professional boat builder, Mike Holtham, from Northallerton to assist with the technical aspects of the design and construction.

Mr Holtham said: “It’s a great opportunity to help people have a go at doing something totally different, creating a real floating sailing Viking boat."