For some members of society who already encounter challenges in their day-to-day lives, the effects of the pandemic have been especially daunting. Fortunately there are a number of organisations out there doing amazing work to support them, adapting quickly to continue delivering vital services.
Among these is Walking With the Wounded, a UK-wide charity which recently expanded its services into Scotland. Supporting veterans managing physical, mental and social wounds, the charity aims to help them re-integrate back into society and sustain their independence by helping them prepare for and secure employment. Clients are predominantly at the younger end of the veterans scale, requiring additional support to adjust to civilian life. As well as offering specific programmes and support focused on employment and training, the charity offers wider support around mental health and in areas such as criminal justice, family support and housing to ensure clients are in a stable position that will allow them to succeed in their job.
There are dedicated Walking With the Wounded hubs in Manchester and Gateshead, while in Scotland, the employment hub is co-located at Scottish Veterans’ Residences’ Bellrock Close residence in Glasgow. Here, employment adviser William Cairns works with over 40 veterans to get them back on the road to employment. However, like many organisations, the charity had to take all of its services online when the country entered lockdown.
We spoke to Aileen Hill, the Strategic Pathways Project Manager for Walking With the Wounded, about how the charity is supporting its clients through the pandemic.
“The pandemic and resulting lockdown have obviously changed the way we are operating in a number of ways. First of all, we have had to adapt the way we deliver our regular services, working from home and cutting out face-to-face contact to comply with restrictions. Secondly, there have been changes in the requirements of our client base due to issues arising from Covid. While this has of course been a challenge, the team have risen to it amazingly, and there have actually been a couple of changes which have proven very effective.
“Our first priority has been to remain in regular contact with our clients, checking how they are doing and identifying any issues so we can address these as soon as possible. Since lockdown began, we have made over 9770 calls to clients across the UK. While meeting in person can be important, especially for some veterans experiencing isolation, we have found that staying in touch and delivering our services online and by phone has helped increase our capacity. For instance, our employment advisers save time travelling between clients, allowing them to carry out more appointments in a day, hearing about more issues and having more time to act on them.
“Similarly, delivering counselling using video calls has enabled us to connect clients and counsellors more efficiently. We currently have over 200 veterans throughout the UK using our Head Start counselling service, with 200 therapists on our books. However, prior to Covid, we would refer clients to a counsellor within a 20-mile radius, meaning longer waits for some. Doing it remotely means that clients can be assigned a counsellor quickly, with more flexibility for sessions.
“This is especially beneficial right now as we have seen an increase in referrals to Head Start since the beginning of lockdown, reflective of the dip in mental health that has been observed throughout the population. We have been fortunate enough to receive Armed Forces Covenant emergency funding to help us accommodate this increased demand. Clients are referred for a session through partners such as Scottish Veterans Residences (SVR), which can lead to a full, 12-session programme if necessary.
“There has also been increased activity in employment support – some clients have had their job hunt disrupted, become unemployed, or have fears about their job security due to the pandemic. Our employment advisers are continuing to work with these clients to secure opportunities, and it means they can keep an eye on any financial or mental health concerns arising from their employment situation and refer them to appropriate support. We have also tried to remain positive throughout, and focus on the employment opportunities brought about by the present situation, such as increased demand in certain sectors.
“Although taking our services online has proven beneficial in some ways, face-to-face contact is still so important and meeting with clients in person is key to staying informed on any issues they may be having. It is still our aspiration to have a dedicated hub in Scotland where we can make this happen. However, in the meantime, we will continue to reach and support as many veterans as possible remotely, responding to their requirements as best we can.”
You can learn more about Walking with the Wounded or get in touch for support here.