Getting to know Scotland’s veterans’ community

It’s been a busy start to 2019.  I’ve been out and about meeting some of the exceptional organisations supporting veterans throughout Scotland.

It was great to meet Alistair Ferrier, Armed Forces Champion at Skills Development Scotland (SDS) and team leader of their Veterans Project. Working with the Career Transition Partnership, SDS helps veterans identify a new career path by assessing their strengths, skills and interests, and can provide funding for training.  Also doing excellent work in this area is SaluteMyJob, which specialises in highlighting the vast array of transferable skills and experience offered by the ex-Service community. I caught up with CEO Andrew Jackson to hear more about the work being done to support both jobseekers and employers keen to utilise this talent pool.

At Glasgow Caledonian University to hear about improving access to higher education opportunities for the veterans community

At a gathering run by Veterans Scotland, in partnership with Glasgow Caledonian University and Edinburgh Napier University, I was invited to share my own views on getting ex-service leavers and their spouses into higher education.  Although it can improve circumstances and prospects, a degree is not a path currently taken by that many veterans. I’d love to see that change – there is real opportunity out there and the Higher and Further Education sectors are really leaning in to support our veterans. It is such an opportunity. I look forward to this initiative continuing to develop, and we can all help in continuing to promote life-long education especially after leaving the Services.

Having a go at some of the activities on offer at Scottish War Blinded’s Hawkhead Centre in Paisley

I recently visited Scottish War Blinded at their Hawkhead Centre in Paisley, where I was privileged to meet some of the inspirational veterans using the service and even try my hand at some archery – one of the many activities on offer! While there, I took part in a roundtable discussion with veterans and Unforgotten Forces partners, exploring ways of working together to tackle social isolation and loneliness. This is a major area of interest to me.  As veterans get older and their worlds shrink, so places like Hawkhead become vital in helping to keep a sense of comradeship and social inclusion.

Meeting Gary Jamieson, who works at Scotland’s Bravest Manufacturing Company

Last week I was in Bishopton at Scotland’s Bravest Manufacturing Company (SBMC), who offer a range of fully-supported employment opportunities in the manufacturing sector to veterans who have experienced physical or psychological challenges as a result of their service. Having recently secured large contracts to produce signage for Network Rail and Amey Scotland, it’s clear that the high quality of SBMC’s output and its operational values are being recognised.  It was great to be shown around the factory and meet some of the veterans employed there, including former soldier Gary Jamieson, one of the first veterans to train at the factory after losing three limbs whilst on tour in Afghanistan eight years ago.

I then joined Fiona Macdonald, founder of Bravehound, and her gang of veterans for lunch.  Bravehound provides companion dogs to veterans and then provide support for both the dog and veteran over the dog’s life.  It is remarkable how successful dogs can be in helping avoid social isolation. Good luck to the wonderful Max who sits his test in a couple of week’s time – if he passes he will be allowed to join his owner in shops and restaurants etc.

Enjoying a tour at Erskine

To round off a busy day I visited neighbouring charity Erskine, who have been providing a variety of support services to ex-servicemen and women and their spouses since 1916.  I had a fantastic tour round the care home, seeing for myself the first-class facilities on offer. I also spent some time with veterans using Erskine’s recently opened Reid Macewen Activity Centre, which offers a variety of activities to enhance the quality of life and wellbeing of veterans within the community. Another fantastic initiative that helps crack this sense of social isolation.

I’m hugely grateful for the many warm welcomes I’ve received throughout the month as I continue to develop an insight into the strengths of Scotland’s veteran support landscape and its key challenges.  Attending my first meeting of the Scottish Parliament Cross-Party Group on The Armed Forces and Veterans Community as Commissioner was a great opportunity to share this insight, and to note some of the main issues and priorities being communicated to MSPs.

My predecessor made a number of recommendations to the Scottish Government over his four reports, in particular in the areas of housing, health and employability.  All his recommendations were accepted and I have requested an update on how the Scottish Government is getting on with implementing them. I look forward to sharing their progress with you in due course.