Heart of England Co-operative Society customers vote to give veterans a helping hand

Clive Miles, President of the Heart of England Co-operative Society; Jo Dyke, Community and Membership Adviser of the Society; Simon Berry, Chairman of the Veterans Contact Point (VCP) and Len Hardy, Founder and Trustee of the VCP.


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A unique facility which provides practical and emotional support for veterans and their families has been given a helping hand thanks to customers at the Heart of England Co-operative Society.

The only facility of its kind in the UK, shoppers gave the Veterans Contact Point (VCP), in Bentley Road, Nuneaton, the highest number of votes to receive a share of £8,000 from sales of 5p carrier bags from Society branches across the town.

The money, shared between three Nuneaton charities, is part of a £40,000 windfall divided among a total of 15 charities across the Society’s wider trading area of Coventry, Warwickshire, south Leicestershire and Northamptonshire.

The Veterans Contact Point is a registered military charity and provides a vital resource which works to support people once they have left the UK Armed Forces, offering emotional and welfare support, helping them back into employment and at times offering financial assistance.

Staffed by a team of volunteers – all ex Armed Forces themselves – the Veterans Contact Point works in partnership with a number of professional bodies including the police and criminal justice agencies, the NHS and mental health service providers such as drug and alcohol services. It also works closely with SSAFA Warwickshire & Coventry – a major grant-giving military charity.

Established in 2009 and becoming a registered charity in February 2014, the VCP is the brainchild of Len Hardy who served 24 years in the army from the age of 15, before making the transition into civilian life and a career in criminal justice.

Len said: “One of the reasons we set the VCP up, we were dealing with veterans who had been in criminal justice who were finding it difficult to adjust to life after the Forces, and to find the right support groups, or to access support from military charities.”

Len said the VCP today receives some 400 to 600 enquiries a year from veterans, mainly men and mainly aged 20 to 45, struggling with numerous issues – ranging from the effects of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan and other theatres of conflict, to homelessness, unemployment and isolation.

He added: “Many have mental health issues. They can be unemployed or have nowhere to live.

“They may not necessarily have been in the Armed Forces for years – they may have been there just for six months or a year – but once they come out of the military, for some, their lives cascade into turmoil. They are unsettled, struggle to re-adjust to civilian life, probably don’t trust authority and feel let down.”

Acting as a triage service, the VCP, staffed by a 12-strong team of volunteers, all ex Armed Forces men and women, works with a number of charities and will signpost veterans to one of the 2,000-plus military charities who are most suited to meeting their needs. The VCP’s work is underpinned by peer support from other veterans who understand and will be there when help is needed.

The core volunteers are backed by a team of other peer support workers who devote their free time to fundraising as well as organising activities for Armed Forces Day and other highlights on the military calendar. Approximately 40 have been trained in the last year.

Len said whereas the majority of veterans successfully make the transition to life after the military, a small percentage who initially cope well often soon find themselves suffering mental health issues, or homelessness. Or they are failing to engage with civilian life after their military service, or find difficulty in accessing mainstream services.

The £4,000 awarded by the Heart of England Co-operative Society will be used towards the VCP’s annual running costs which stand at £12,000.

The rest of the money is usually raised through supermarket collections and other donations and grants.

Len said: “We are deeply thankful for what the Co-op and its customers have done for us. We really appreciate that the work we do and the messages we are trying to get out there are actually being recognised by society.

“With this money we now have breathing space for another year, meaning we can keep our doors open and be there for our Armed Forces community. It will give our Armed Forces ex-service men and women hope and potentially it could help save lives.”

Ali Kurji, Chief Executive of the Heart of England Co-operative Society, said: “For many people, leaving the Armed Forces can be a daunting prospect. In many cases fighting on the front line, and in any case living such a rigid, structured lifestyle for a period of time and then re-entering everyday society can be traumatising for ex-service men and women who feel they are not getting the right support.

“The Veterans Contact Point provides an invaluable lifeline for Armed Forces heroes not just in Nuneaton but from much further afield and we are delighted to be able to help the centre through our 5p carrier bag scheme.

“We would like to thank every one of our customers who took the time and effort to vote for their favourite charity. Their votes will help make a huge difference to many lives.”

With the second highest number of votes, the North Warwickshire 1st Responders has been awarded £2,500 from the scheme, while Nuneaton MIND has been awarded £1,500 after receiving the third highest votes.

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