Pay it Forward: The veterans giving back to the communities that first helped them

24 October 2018 | North West England


Charity Veterans in Communities works with ex-veterans needing support who in turn use their skills to improve their local areas.

Veterans in Communities is a fantastic charity that supports those who have served in the armed forces but are finding it hard to adjust to civilian life. It also reaches out to their families across East Lancashire and parts of Greater Manchester.

Launched by former Royal Engineer Bob Elliott in 2012, they have supported more than 600 people directly and more than 1,000 indirectly with peer support activities and projects delivered by veterans for veterans.

But what marks them out is how their members in turn give back to the local community.

Bob realised that there were lots of untapped potential in the skills that the veterans could transfer to helping community projects. Thanks to their military training, they also have a wide range of skills that can in turn help other people.

“When we leave the armed forces we have a range of qualifications, skills and experiences that are not always transferable or recognised in civilian life or in future employment,” he explained. “Our community projects and activities not only give us the opportunity to showcase these skills and help others thrive but also give the veterans opportunity to gain qualifications that are recognised in civilian life and in future employment opportunities.”

VIC members have landscaped a garden at a local care home, marshalled at community events, rebuilt a dry stone wall in a remembrance garden, replaced WW1 headstones in a local cemetery under their Operation War Graves-funded programme, and helped other veterans move home.

The projects and activities have been designed to build confidence, self-esteem, motivation and team building through peer support. But just as crucial, is getting former veterans involved, out there and making new friends from within their new community outside of the military.

“What people don’t realise is that when you are in the forces everything is provided for you. They have come from an environment where everything is managed. It can be a huge shock to the system when you get out and realise you have to provide everything for yourself and some people just don’t have the means to do that.

“Things that seem normal to us, like making a dental appointment, getting a TV licence, a weekly shop can be alien tasks to them. Something small can easily build up, leading to severe financial problems.”

The charity also has an outreach service run by local VIC members which helps reach out to armed forces communities, identifying those who need help and referring them to appropriate services. And their Sandbag Cafe in Heywood provides a place where veterans can meet other veterans.

A huge number of activities are also open to them including walking, horticulture, allotments, social trips, training opportunities, outreach in local areas, a singing group and a now famous art club run by Darren Horsnall. He started the group after art therapy changed the course of his life for the better once he left the army. “It worked for me, pushing out all the bad stuff. Now I just want to give back.”

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