I’ve been around the military environment for most of my life – as the daughter of an RAF engineer, as a serving RAF officer, and wife of an RAF navigator. When I saw the advert for the role of Armed Forces Covenant Project Officer for Highland and Moray Council I saw a great opportunity to bring my life experience to work! I must admit, however, to having limited awareness of the Covenant before taking up the role but two years on this has well and truly been rectified.
Funded by the Armed Forces Covenant Fund, The Highland Council, Moray Council and the Inverness Common Good Fund the project was aimed at reviewing how both Councils support their local Armed Forces communities in line with the principles of the Covenant, and identifying opportunities to improve support.
For this to happen, we need to understand where our Armed Forces community lives. Easily done for the serving population, but much of our veteran population and their families are ‘hidden’, a situation that’s unlikely to change until after the 2021 Census when there’ll be the opportunity for people to disclose their veteran status. Outside of this we’re reliant on organisations using opportunities to collect information, for example, through registration for health and care services, school registration, or housing applications.
What are the benefits of having a dedicated project officer?
Time and capacity: having someone on the ground to meet with members of the Armed Forces community, both locally and further afield, and with organisations that support them.
Building a picture of issues and challenges facing our local community: how to address these by connecting people, improving collaboration and reducing duplication.
The increasing network of Armed Forces and Veterans Champions is vital, but often they’re extremely busy people. Having a role dedicated to support their work, whether within a single agency or across agencies, is invaluable in keeping up-to-date with research, reports, policy changes and support services.
Point of contact: being a ‘go to’ for matters that relate to the Armed Forces community. Having the knowledge of local services, support and a network of contacts and being able to signpost people appropriately.
- A dedicated website has been created for the Armed Forces community in Moray and Highland which provides relevant advice, guidance and information – http://www.armedforcesmorayandhighland.co.uk/ This includes help with education, employment and training, health and wellbeing, housing, finance and moving to north of Scotland.
- Raising awareness and educating local communities about the Covenant and their Armed Forces community. Together with the Co-ordinator and lead for Military Liaison Group (Education) in Highland Council, we’ve delivered a programme to raise awareness with Community Planning Partnerships across Highland Council to ensure consideration of their Armed Forces community in the preparation of their locality, children and adult plans. Resulting discussions have drawn surprise over the estimated size of the Armed Forces community presence – especially where no operational military unit exists. This is endorsed by the fact that all Partnerships have school children registered as belonging to an Armed Forces family.
- Cullen Community Centre hosted a fantastic ‘Tea and Medals’ brunch for Veterans and their families/carers which attracted Veterans from the local area as well as a bus of 20 from Aberdeen City. The Community Centre is continuing its support for their Armed Forces community by hosting similar events in the future and seeking funding to refurbish a workshop that will provide the space for Veterans to meet with each other and integrate with their local community.
Local authority Covenant projects were funded on a short-term basis to enable them to improve their service provision for their Armed Forces community and embed this as far as possible in order to be sustainable. Since inception the role has evolved and shown the benefits of having a dedicated person in large organisations to support the work of the Armed Forces Champions and lead officers bringing benefits both to the organisation and the Armed Forces community. It provides a point of contact at the operational level to keep abreast of, and share, policy changes and research that affect the AF community; maintain an overview of the local community and support available; and identify issues and bring together stakeholders in collaborative work.
I leave with the feeling of having achieved much of what was expected in the project outcomes, but also so much more to do around raising awareness, reaching the ‘hidden’ Veterans, ensuring continuity of health and social care especially for serving personnel and their families, and improving outcomes in education, housing and employment.
I feel privileged to have had this opportunity, and would like to thank all those who I’ve worked with during the last two years. Whether from the Armed Forces community, third or public sectors, their help, enthusiasm and efforts to bring about change to improve support for the Armed Forces community in Moray and Highland are unstinting and enduring.
Article by: Jo Lenihan| Project Officer (Armed Forces Covenant) Highland & Moray