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Simply Pull Up A Sandbag

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Big-hearted - Phil Bennett is on a mission to help other former soldiers and serving military personnel with a social networking website called Pull Up A Sandbag, which aims to raise cash for Service charities through commercial advertising
Big-hearted - Phil Bennett is on a mission to help other former soldiers and serving military personnel with a social networking website called Pull Up A Sandbag, which aims to raise cash for Service charities through commercial advertising

Big-hearted - Phil Bennett is on a mission to help other former soldiers and serving military personnel with a social networking website called Pull Up A Sandbag, which aims to raise cash for Service charities through commercial advertising
Folks should not have to dig deep in their pockets or perform extreme feats of endurance to raise cash for Forces charities, reckons one-time soldier Phil Bennett.

That’s why he’s launched social networking website Pull Up A Sandbag, which aims to generate funds to support veterans purely through commerical advertising – so no one has to donate a penny.

The only hitch is, Phil needs current and former members of the Services to flock to his free website (www.pullupasandbag.com) and register for it to work. The more people who join, the more advertisers he can attract, and the more cash can be raised.

He has been inspired by the phenomenal success of Facebook and intends to adopt the best elements of social networking to make a success of his “no gimmicks” venture.

“People are fed up with traditional fund-raising methods, where much of their donations gets eaten up by administration costs instead of going to the needy,” said Phil, 53, who lives in Carlisle and served for 22 years in the 9th/12th Royal Lancers.

“Pull Up A Sandbag is not a registered charity, rather it will be run as a limited company, with at least 75 per cent of the income going to charity. 

“I believe that this is a unique opportunity to help our veterans without people having to put their hands in their pockets, or do extreme things like ride a unicycle from John O’ Groats to Land’s End or sit in a bath of beans for a week.”

Phil calls PUASB “fund-raising with a twist” that does not rely on the generosity of the general public. The former BFG-resident is tapping into the drop in trust and confidence by the general public over the way charities are run, as reported by the Charity Commission earlier this year. 

Explaining how his website works, he said: “People can join and set up a group or join other groups, just as they can on Facebook. When we get enough people, it will attract advertising, the money from which will be donated to Forces charities.

“Members have the option when uploading their personal details to have them open to everybody, just to their friends, or just to themselves. Passwords are changed regularly, so we will try to keep things as secure as possible.

“I am keen to help ex-Servicemen and women who are struggling with PTSD, homelessness and any other issues they might have. PUASB is not just an online forum, a place to reconnect, but also an archive.”

Phil, who served in Northern Ireland and the First Gulf War, added: “The problem with Facebook is, it belongs to Facebook. There are loads of groups for the military, some with over 150,000 members. But what they achieve is limited because they are lodgers in the house that Zuckerberg built.

“I am  hoping to divert a few crumbs off the table of Facebook and Google by attracting some of their audience. Basically, we are like Justgiving. In our case, however, we will earn all the money and then give as much as possible to charity.”

Phil during his Army days, here on an exchange in Italy
Phil during his Army days, here on an exchange in Italy

Phil during his Army days, here on an exchange in Italy
Phil, who has worked as a truck driver and builder, added: “The more we give, the more publicity we get, and the more we earn to keep giving. Hopefully, we will make a serious dent in the problems with homelessness and PTSD et cetera among our veterans.”

The 53-year-old has faced his own challenges. At the end of his military service in Germany in 2003, Phil’s marriage was falling apart, and his plans for resettling in civvy street were left in tatters.

“Four years or so after leaving, I realised I wasn’t coping too well and referred myself for counselling,” he said. 

“Fortunately, I was quickly accepted and had counselling at Cherry Knowle Hospital in Sunderland for two years, which helped immensely.”

Since first thinking up the idea in 2009, Phil has faced obstacles and sceptics but has never given up on his ambition to start PUASB. He has spent thousands of pounds of his own money to get the project going.

“It has been like a train set. You first buy a boxed set, then you add a signal box, and then a tunnel. And before you know it, you’re having the loft boarded out and going for the full layout with 100 trains on it,” he said.

“An ex-soldier, Mark Wierzbicki, has built a basic website for me, working with a limited budget. For the past four years, I have been adding a features as budgets allow, and I have finally arrived at something that I am very proud of.”

Phil, who bookended his Army career in Hohne, added: “There will be a committee to decide what happens with the revenue raised, made up of members from the website. I will not be involved with that. I will just run the site. 

“I am not a materialistic sort of bloke who needs a range of cars outside and a helicopter. What I really want is something that will have my name on it for people to remember me by long after I’m gone.

“The biggest obstacle now to us, and it’s a big one, is getting people to use www.pullupasandbag.com instead of  Facebook. People moan about the lack of help for veterans with PTSD, the homeless and those who deal with other issues, so give us that step up to the first rung, please.”

The website is free, as is the app that goes with it: www.pullupasandbag.com

- The MoD is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites and Service personnel are expected to be security aware and familiar with the rules relating to communicating on social networking sites.