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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 September 2007, 12:26 GMT 13:26 UK
Plush new digs for army recruits
By Anna Lee
BBC Radio One Newsbeat

Think of army accommodation and images of mouldy showers, peeling walls and rows of iron beds with lumpy mattresses come to mind.

A soldier in new accommodation
Larger beds and more storage are part of the improvements

But not for new recruits at Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire.

Trainees at the largest garrison in Europe have got some of the plushest, most modern accommodation the British Army has to offer.

Kingsman Michael Helm is a trainee with the Duke of Lancaster's regiment and has just moved into the new accommodation.

"The layout of the rooms is better. In an old block you have 18 beds in a room, you can't go anywhere if everyone's being loud," he said.

"But in here because it's sectioned off you can actually find a quiet space if you need time to yourself."

Luxury items

The Army admits that a lot of soldiers' housing is past its best. At Catterick there are some old blocks still in use - they call them "Sandhurst blocks".

They are big and solid, built in the 1920s - and it shows. They are pretty shabby and smell a bit old and musty. Walking from one of those into one of the new blocks you really can see a difference.

It's in the basic things like space - much more of it, fewer men to a room, more showers and toilets to go around.

But there are some luxury items too, such as comfy chairs, bigger beds and plenty of new lockers to store kit.

This is a massive improvement and it makes the individual feel valued
Major Dan Wilkinson

The real showpiece is the place where the soldiers spend their free time, the Beharry Centre. It has got around 15 widescreen TVs, rows of computer game consoles, pool tables and a cafe.

Chris Ward, another trainee, is making the most of one of the sofas.

"I didn't think it would be like this. I've just been coming up here in the evening to chill out," he said.

The change is also welcomed for those who have been at Catterick for a while, like Private Chapman.

"When I joined up it wasn't like this. It's a lot better, it's good to come up here and relax because it can get quite stressful here sometimes."

Encourage recruits

In essence, this is all about making more people join up. Yorkshire and the North East is the biggest Army recruiting ground in the country and pulls in 17% of all new joiners.

Army tents
Cramped Army tents are a world away from spacious barracks

With recruitment targets to hit, the Army hopes that upping the levels of luxury gives them a better chance of bringing people in.

Army research shows that bad accommodation can put people off joining, so they're doing what they can to break down that barrier.

Of course, it's a far cry from the sort of accommodation provided to soldiers in Basra, Iraq. There you get a camp bed and a mosquito net, forming a small pod that becomes your home for up to six months.

The Army says that's another reason why soldiers deserve better accommodation when they're back in the UK.

All this comes at a cost - 810m to be precise. So at a time when British soldiers are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, would any extra money be better spent on providing more kit at the frontline?

Major Dan Wilkinson, Chief of Staff at Catterick Garrison said: "It's a massive improvement on the old stuff which was without privacy, some of the washing facilities were frankly disgusting - so this is a massive improvement and it makes the individual feel valued."

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