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MCVC undertook a comprehensive survey in 2013 to identify the needs of ex-service personnel in Rotherham and plan to carry out further research in 2014. Links have been made with local Christian charities: Lifeline, Shiloh, Lighthouse, The Underground and Street Pastors to link homelessness and crisis support engagement with AFCC and MCVC.

Ex-service personnel face ‘hidden health problems’ including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is an illness that can take years to manifest itself. We have a significant number of ex-service personnel coming into contact with RDASH (Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust) services, The Lighthouse and Shiloh (Christian Homeless centres), Rotherham Street Pastors, RMBC Homeless services etc. MCVC works with a great many other partners to respond to ‘these hidden needs’ . 1 in 4 ex-service personnel now become homeless and develop chaotic life-styles.

For our organisation, this is a pilot project that will focus on a key target area where a high number of ex-armed forces personnel live. It will provide a very ‘local’ project that will have high visibility and will see us develop. It will help us to develop our own professional capacity, develop key professional systems we require to grow in capability, support our volunteers, help them to become more employable and help us to increase our capacity overall.

The issues we will address are as above, homelessness, often described as ‘sofa surfing’, difficulties in getting support agencies and benefits agencies including the DWP and essential service providers to support the needs of ex-service personnel, often failing to recognise that they have additional needs resulting from their time in armed forces service. This is essentially, a very practical advocacy outreach project which we wish to develop in a key ex-mining communities where there is real hidden need for engagement, brokered access to training, employment support, information, advice and guidance, sign-posting, hand holding, direct support attending stressful meetings such as benefit entitlement reviews, challenging the rejections of emergency support requests etc.

A key issue that all ex-service personnel face is that the civilian community have no concept of the issues they have or currently face, no inkling of what they have been through as people since they have literally lived in a ‘different world’ and been subject to very ‘different rules of life’. Many of the individuals we seek to engage and support are extremely deprived and unfortunately, have been prejudicially treated, without consideration of the additional barriers they face to re-integrate into civilian life on all levels. Many families are very badly affected by key issues ex-personnel face, marriage break ups and much of the associated hardship can be addressed by dedicated volunteers who are trained, and ‘understand the needs’ of the clients they face.

For various reasons, some people find this difficult and fall on hard times. Many veterans experience mental health problems, for example; struggle with drug and alcohol abuse; or become involved with the criminal justice system. Often, these problems are inter-related. Veterans could account for 1 in 8 people with 1 in 6 families possibly affected with undiagnosed or un-recognised needs. There is a lack of service provision in Rotherham of this kind which is widely recognised. We will respond to health, employment support, training opportunities, money & debt advice, homelessness & tailored one-to-one assistance for individuals who need identified support, often complex barriers to entering civilian life. Rotherham has an increasing level of homelessness in all its forms, street drinking, sofa surfing, dependency on crash pads, homeless shelters and outreach services. Many individuals who enter homeless shelters are ex-service personnel. For our ex-military community this is painful and saddening, for our wider civilian community this is sickening and a damning failure to address the needs of citizens who have served their communities, their town, their borough, their region and their country. No one should face disadvantage through having served in the armed forces, but 1 in 6 or 1 in 8 homeless people are ex-service personnel depending where you choose to undertake a targeted study.

For our community in the wider sense of ‘geographical community’ it will provide a very visible symbol of supporting the areas own residents who have served it. For the project beneficiaries it will show that their community has not forgotten them.

We held drop in sessions in 2012 and 2013 undertaking a year long survey, produced recommendations & undertook an evaluation which has provided us with a baseline of needs in 2014. This project supports the Armed Forces Community Covenant (AFCC) borough, regional & national covenants & is in line with RMBCs community support strategy. A key evidence of need from our 2013 consultation activities is to provide structured advocacy support as so many ex-service activities is to provide structured advocacy support as so many ex-service personnel have poor health, hidden issues & find it difficult to navigate ‘civvy street’ in terms of how to access help, advice, specific services etc… This project is a responsive follow on to the evaluation of our work in 2012 & 2013 and from the consultation events & mapping activities undertaken.

The ethos of the Armed Forces Community Covenant is to ensure that no ex-serving personnel or members of their family are disadvantaged as a result of serving in HM Armed Forces and to help assist with transition into civilian life. 21 local organisations, including representatives from HM Armed Forces, signed the Rotherham Armed Forces Community Covenant on 20th January 2012.

For various reasons, some people find this difficult and fall on hard times. They may experience mental health problems, for example; struggle with drug and alcohol abuse; or become involved with the criminal justice system. Often, these problems are inter-related. Since the signing of the AFCC, monthly meetings of the strategic group have been held at the town hall. As a result of the drop in sessions and with support from RMBC, a local community group, the Military Community and Veterans Centre (MCVC), has been formed. This group, which comprises both current and former military personnel, assists with enquiries by signposting to the relevant organisation (usually within the AFCC). It has become apparent that the best people to help ex-service people in need are ex-service people themselves, as they understand the experience of service life. There is a strong feeling of camaraderie amongst this group, regardless of which part of the forces they served in. MCVC provides voluntary befriending, support, social, advocacy and community engagement support activities, to improve the social and economic welfare of individuals and their families from Rotherham who have seen active military service.

MCVC will seek to provide representation at all levels and in all situations for Military Regulars and Reserves, past and present, and their dependants, veterans, and their families to ensure that no one is disadvantaged due to their military service whenever they might have served their country and to provide equal opportunities and to advocate for equal access to opportunities whenever and wherever individuals may require or request advocacy.

The centre will provide a one stop point of contact in Rotherham Borough for fellow military personnel both Regulars and Reserves past and present, and their dependants, veterans and their families, to offer friendly help and guidance on a wide range of issues such as healthcare, housing, employment, benefits and comradeship for those feeling isolated. We will provide direct social and economic intervention support to address isolation, alienation, homelessness, poverty, health and well-being, access to skills development, employability, integration and supported opportunities to benefit Military Regulars and Reserves past and present, and their dependants, veterans and their families.

Through the project we will seek to provide employment, training, health and well-being, community development and social enterprise activities that positively contribute to the overall benefit of Military Regulars and Reserves past and present, and their dependants to provide equal opportunities and to advocate for equal access to opportunities wherever individuals may need help.

MCVC aims to develop a comprehensive support service offering advocacy, brokered support and direct project interventions using volunteers, project staff and external service delivery partners all of whom signed up to practically assist the implementation of the Armed Forces Community Covenant in Rotherham Borough. The purpose of such a centre will be to provide a holistic approach to supporting the social and economic welfare of our members and the community we are here to serve. Rotherham MCVC is a not-for-profit organisation that wishes to provide an umbrella of services from this centre including signposting, Counselling, Training, Therapy, Health and Wellbeing support, Employability and general welfare related social activities, drop in facilities, one to one interventions and a structured advocacy programme. The provision of trained volunteers and a defibrillator will provide a community service and asset.

The project will provide a ‘one stop shop’ experience for all ex-service personnel and their families for Rotherham borough. As part of meeting community needs this project will serve a ‘community of interest’ who are defined by their common bond of military service as recognised by the Military Covenant of Rotherham. Experience has shown that Veterans are often too proud to ask for help and will respond more positively to other veterans.

Next Steps

  • Recruitment and training of suitable volunteers through Rotherham VAR.
  • Drop in social welfare support activities including information, guidance, sign posting, supported advocacy and engagement with partner agencies for individual social and economic health and wellbeing. We also offer befriending and support, social and recreational engagement.
  • To continue to run all activities using volunteers as we are all ex-service personnel of various ages and veterans of numerous campaigns. We have many regular volunteers who run activities and manage drop in events in Voluntary action Rotherham (VAR). This sets our service apart from other providers in that we put ourselves in deprived communities and offer support at the point of need.
  • We will undertake the recruiting training of volunteers through VAR, system development and organisational systems support work as soon as funding is secured. This will support identified volunteers to become advisers, also improving their own skills set and employability for the future.
  • Trained volunteers will staff the “outreach trailer” and will be qualified to operate the defibrillator if so required.
  • We will provide confidential information, and guidance, referral routes to key partners and follow up support as required according to the needs of the individual. (The partnership of service providers is already in place and we have therefore appropriate referral routes and the key connections in place to help those seeking support).
  • We provide a lifeline for many ex-service personnel who are struggling with the transition to civilian life or who are suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. Many people, attending drop in activity have varied support needs from friendship and social contact to health support issues etc.
  • We will pursue the support needs of individual beneficiaries as far as needed.
  • We will maintain a list of attendees from all drop-in sessions, we keep surveys as evidence of need and internal records of referrals to other services and track individuals progress through our peer support network. (Should this application prove successful please notify us if you require specific monitoring formats as evidence of outcome delivery etc.)
  • The project will continue to develop its support systems and internal professional competency as a provider of Information, Advice and Guidance and we will support our volunteers with ongoing personal development through their advocacy programme work.
  • We will also feed project beneficiaries into other social activities we provide including family activities, group social events etc. in other Rotherham locations following on from local engagement activities (where this is safe and appropriate for the individuals we engage and also others attending these events subject to issues of Safeguarding and Vulnerable Adult protection policy training).