Ahead of Armed Forces Day on Saturday (26 June), North Yorkshire residents are encouraged to recognise the contribution of service men and women and their families across the county.
The county has more than 12,000 people who work for the Ministry of Defence, making up four per cent of all jobs in the area, and 3,000 children from service families in schools, accounting for around five per cent of the total education population.
That is a significant element of North Yorkshire communities and in addition to their core roles in protecting the country, the coronavirus pandemic showed the local value they can contribute, when service personnel helped with a range of vital tasks, such as delivering PPE and working in the ambulance service, at the height of the pandemic.
Catterick Garrison is the country’s largest army base, with associated barracks at Dishforth, Ripon and Topcliffe. It is also home to RAF stations at Linton-on-Ouse, Leeming, Fylingdales and Menwith Hill and the Harrogate-based Army Foundation College, and the staff working at those centres also provide a boost to the county’s economy.
We have received the coveted Gold Employer Recognition Scheme award from in Ministry of Defence for the support provided to the armed forces.
To qualify, winners must employ staff from the armed forces community and demonstrate other credentials to show their recruiting and selection processes are forces-friendly.
That means veterans, reservists and family members make a big contribution to the way North Yorkshire provides its services.
However, the role of armed forces creates a unique set of demands on personnel and the potential challenges of transferring to civilian life after a military career are now well recognised.
In North Yorkshire, support and assistance is available for veterans who, after a career of public service, find themselves in need of kindness and support from a range of sources.
Our own Living Well initiative aims to support those struggling with their personal lives and has a particular focus on ex-services staff, with a ‘veterans champion’ role now in place.
Living Well’s Wendy Derbyshire explained: “The aim is to identify support networks in people’s lives, those who are struggling a bit, people who have changed circumstances, any sort of life change which means they are having a dip and need a bit of support.
“We help people find what is already there in their communities and family networks to keep them independent and improve their well-being,” she said.
The veterans champion role has been in place for a year and was created to promote the resources that are available to support veterans as they adjust to civilian life and ensure the challenges faced by those with a military background are fully understood.
Part of the aim is to dispel stereotypes around veterans, who can be virtually any age or sex.
Age UK Scarborough has its own veterans scheme, which was launched during the coronavirus pandemic and will continue until at least next spring, though moves to secure funding beyond that date are already in place.
Veterans support worker Kerry Broadmore said activities had to be done online during the lockdown period but now a range of face-to-face activities, including organised walks and coffee mornings, were taking place in Scarborough and surrounding communities.
Age UK is aware of 132 veterans in the area, with some of those requiring no assistance, while some benefit from welfare calls and others who want to take part in activities.
She said: “We are trying to focus more on outside activities for people.
“Everyone is desperate to get out and about but for some getting out of the house can be a big step, so it is a case of building up their confidence to come and meet people face to face.
“It is slow and steady. The service we provide is for all ages, though generally my group is 65 plus and most have been shielding and some have not left their home for 12 months,” she said.
An innovative scheme called Project Nova also operates across North Yorkshire, in addition to other parts of the country, designed to provide assistance for veterans who have been arrested or end up in police custody.
It is a joint initiative between RFEA, the forces’ employment charity, and the Walking with the Wounded organisation, with support from North Yorkshire Police.
The aim is to tackle the root-cause issues that have led veterans into contact with the law and to provide the help which allows them to live law-abiding lifestyles.
Co-ordinators for Project Nova understand the experiences of ex-service personnel and have an empathy that helps to give veterans the strength they need to make positive changes to their lives.
Colin Back, national manager of Project Nova, said: “Veterans are often reluctant to engage with mainstream support, as they do not feel their life experience is well understood.
“With the support of North Yorkshire Police and organisations like Living Well, we can improve the lives of veterans by preventing them from reaching the point of arrest through tackling the social issues at the root cause of social unrest.
“This will, in turn, improve the lives of the local community, by reducing veteran offending in the area,” he said.
Leader of the County Council Cllr Carl Les said: “The military community is an important part of North Yorkshire and it makes a valuable contribution to society.
“It is right that we should recognise their commitment and contribution through Armed Forces Day, but it is also important that the right support services are in place for those who need them and North Yorkshire is pleased to play a part in that.”
In a world where ex-military staff have to deal with challenges such as PTSD and other pressures few in civilian life have to endure, getting caught up in a timeshare fiasco hardly seems the most likely cause of problems.
But for North Yorkshire veteran Peter Hall it proved to be a crucial element in a downward spiral of mental health – and one he struggled to find help with.
However, he was eventually referred to our Living Well scheme, which provides support across the community but also has specialist knowledge to assist veterans, and he has now found himself back on the road to a more familiar lifestyle.
Peter, who lives in the Selby district, had a 22-year British Army career serving with the Royal Signals Regiment.
His service started in 1989 and took him on a varied path until he left the service early this century.
The experience he had gained as a serviceman meant his skills were in demand for civilian work in the Middle East and a lucrative employment package meant he was in a position to be tempted by a timeshare deal while holidaying in Florida.
That failed to live up to expectations and as the arrangement went sour, he found himself facing increased bills, with no apparent way out.
His health suffered as a result and he was eventually referred to Living Well via his GP, linking up with another veteran working as an advisor.
Their shared military background meant a joint understanding, he said, and an ability to communicate easily, using the same language and a similar outlook.
Previously, offers of advice had always had fees attached, he said, but with the intervention of Living Well he is now on the verge of unshackling himself from the financial commitments of the timeshare – which he was worried could wreck his retirement – and is positive about the future.
Peter said: “Last year, I was pretty bad. I felt I could not fix anything or sort anything out, I had no-one to turn to. The main stress was the timeshare. I had no money, I was just working and sleeping.”
His outlook was so bad he could not initially face direct meetings with Living Well, but as time progressed the common ground between him and his adviser became apparent and a bond – with trust – formed.
That led to a lot of research on his behalf over potential solutions to the timeshare situation and he has now been able to plot a path to free himself from it.
“I didn’t know these things were available,” he said, “I have spoken to him in depth and will be able to work out what is for me. It is great to have had that help and I cannot thank them enough.
“I am a lot happier, I have had some progression, something moving forwards. I have something to look forwards to,” he said.