Working with the wider community

Last month I shared with you details of some of the organisations I had the pleasure of visiting and how I gained some really useful insights into the complex world of our Veterans community.  I have continued this theme during February.

I am trying to move out from the Central belt whenever opportunities arise and I recently attended the Firm Base Community Task Force meeting in the Borders under the guidance of Councillor John Greenwell, the borders Council Armed Forces Champion.  I was inspired by the energy and enthusiasm of a wide range of people who all want to help and support our veterans.  I take my hat off to this Task Force – it is an excellent example of collaborative networking for the benefit of our veterans in the Borders.  The next day I headed to Fife and met with the AF & Veterans Local Authority Champion there, Councillor Ron Cavanagh.  He gave me some really thoughtful insights into the role of an Armed Forces Champion and how critical it is to have an individual who genuinely wants to do the right thing.

I was invited by Lothian Armed Forces and Veterans Project to give a talk to NHS Lothian staff about the importance of the Armed Forces Covenant to their work as health professionals.  NHS staff are often at the forefront of working with veterans and the more we can do to raise awareness of the Covenant itself, the veterans’ community and the health issues they might present with, the better.

My meetings are not always with traditional military or veterans’ organisations and a couple of weeks ago I met with Tom Halpin from SACRO, a Scottish community justice organisation, and heard about their Veterans Mentoring Service for those veterans currently in, or at risk of becoming involved in, the criminal justice system. As part of this service, veterans are linked with a mentor with “lived military experience” and through the development of a supportive relationship, they work together to aim to cease offending and increase a veteran’s self-esteem and confidence.  A very important and worthwhile service for some of our more vulnerable veterans.

Two other, very different, non-military organisations working in innovative and exciting ways with the veterans’ community are Active Stirling and the Macrobert Arts Centre.  I visited them on the same day and was particularly taken by the way they are both supporting and considering all veterans from those with mental or physical issues through to those that have made a successful transition into civilian life and who want to give something back.  Both organisations are very keen to work together and I look forward to watching how this collaborative approach develops – as Allen Gibson from Active Stirling said, “to hopefully produce some partnership working to offer a wide range of opportunity for veterans in Stirling and Forth Valley”.  This is all about giving confidence to those veterans who may find the transition from Service Life challenging and with that confidence help them realise that they are valued members of their communities and that they have a lot to offer. 

But my work is not all about visits and meeting veterans and the different organisations working to help them – important though this is. I have also been examining in detail the UK-wide Strategy for our Veterans published in NovemberI have submitted my thoughts on its implementation in Scotland as part of the formal UK consultation.  I will be doing something similar in the next few weeks as part of the Scottish Government’s own engagement on this strategy.

I have also started on a round of meetings with a number of Scottish Government Ministers, to discuss progress in delivering the recommendations in my predecessor’s four reports to government and the challenges of getting things right for our veterans and their families.  Many of these are cross-cutting across different Ministerial portfolios and implementation can involve a number of delivery partners, both statutory and voluntary.  More on this next month…

Finally, last week I was delighted to attend the launch of the Scottish Government’s Armed Forces and Veterans network for any of its employees with a personal or work interest in the armed forces and veterans.  Graeme Dey MSP, the Veterans Minister has been instrumental in getting this up and running and it’s great to the see the Scottish Government supporting its own members of staff in this way.

The Scottish Government Armed Forces and Veterans Network joins an ever-increasing number of such employer networks across Scotland.  I’m keen to discover more about these networks and discuss how they might work collaboratively in helping veterans make the best of the talent they have – specifically in the work place.  I sense a real opportunity here which would be good to capitalize on.

Graeme Dey, Paul Johnson, Scottish Government officials and leaders of other networks at the launch.