A Swindon councillor, and now parliamentary candidate, was given a dose of nostalgia when he visited the town's Army Reserve Centre.

Councillor Will Stone, who is the borough council’s armed forces champion, was a Rifleman in the 1st Battalion The Rifles  for five years – now as a councillor he was invited to see what goes on at the army’s reserve centre in the corner of GWR Park.

It is home to B Company of 7th Battalion The Rifles; a volunteer reserve company – what used to be known as the Territorial Army.

Welcoming Cllr Stone and the Adver, Officer Commanding Major Luke Bowdidge said: “I think lots of people in Swindon don’t know we are here, or what we do.

“We are looking to recruit more reserve soldiers, and I want more people to know about the opportunities we have here.”

Volunteers who sign up for the light infantry company do so understanding they have a minimum commitment of 27 days per year, paid, serving as a solider.

But Major Bowdidge said there are opportunities to do much more: “The average number of days per year for a Rifleman in this company is between 50 and 80, although some people do more. And it’s paid at about £60 a day, and you’re paid for every minute you serve, so it can be a useful revenue stream.”

And while they are reservists with day jobs, the company’s soldiers get to do everything those in the regular army do.

Major Bowdidge said: “We’re a young company, we were just a platoon until 2017 – but we’ve had soldiers deployed to operations in Afghanistan, the NATO enhanced forward presence in Eastern Europe, peacekeeping in Cyprus, training the Ukrainian army.

“We exist to be able to provide support to the rest of the Battalion.”

Rifleman Rebecca Connolly, a former professional boxer, joined the company in 2017.

She said: “I was looking for something to do as my career was coming to an end. It was just as they allowed woman into infantry regiments, I was the first female recruit to go through Catterick.

“Ther are so many opportunities for self-development. I’ve really enjoyed the adventure training, such as mountaineering, and I want to do the mountain leader’s course.

“I also really enjoy learning new skills, especially the close quarter battle urban warfare. I like kicking in the doors.”

Major Bowdidge emphasised that while reservists are as much soldiers as regular, and get the same training, use the same equipment and are geld in the same esteem as full-timers, the army recognises they have jobs and families to consider.

He said: It’s much more flexible and family-friendly now, and completely voluntary. It’s also a common route to become a regular, we’ve had a number of people sign up to serve their country over the years, after some time served and fantastic experiences have gone on to regular service.”

The Major is keen to see the company become better integrated into Swindon: “During the pandemic a lot of us were deployed into helping at testing and vaccination centres and transporting the first batches of vaccines.

“I want to see us working more closely with schools and colleges and community groups, charities and businesses in Swindon for mutual betterment, being a centre of gravity in Swindon and a force for good alongside our critical task of being a credible warfighting light infantry company.”

Cllr Stone, who had recognised both names and faces of a number of the centre’s soldiers, said: “As a councillor the best thing I can do is put the centre in better touch with lots of different organisations, and businesses.

“I have good connections to Nationwide, or Amazon. I have good connections to New College Swindon, although I’m sure the centre does as well.

“It would be good to see the company working with the community for everyone’s benefit.”

To inquire about joining B Company call 01793 523251.

The visit took place before Rishi Sunak announced a general election will take place on July 4.

Cllr Stone will stand as the Labour candidate in the Swindon North constituency.

Other candidates announced are the  sitting Conservative MP Justin Tomlinson the Green Party candidate Andy Bentley and  independent candidate Debbie Hicks.