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Hosted by the University of Chester’s Westminster Centre for Research in Veterans, the Symposium saw the four local borough councils of Cheshire West and Chester, Cheshire East, Halton and Warrington together with the NHS, charities, the Department of Work and Pensions, the emergency services, veterans, military families, the Ministry of Defence and the University to look at further collaborative ways of working.

Professor Alan Finnegan is the Chair of the Cheshire Armed Forces Covenant Partnership and the members work together closely to improve the welfare of veterans across Cheshire.

The symposium facilitated the partnership sharing information of Cheshire and Warrington’s current projects and personal reflections, as well as welcoming local dignitaries for a re-signing in support of the Armed Forces Covenant. This is a commitment by civilian organisations in collaboration with the MoD to support and recognise the value of the Armed Forces community and their contribution to the UK, including serving personnel, both regulars and reservists, veterans and military families. The Covenant defines that those who serve in the Armed Forces, veterans and their families should face no disadvantage compared to other citizens in the provision of public and commercial services. This commitment includes voluntary and charitable bodies, private organisations and the actions of individuals in supporting the Armed Forces.

The symposium was offered as a free event as a result of funding from the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust as part of their Veterans’ Places, Pathways and People Programme North-West (VPPP (NW)). This aims to develop better, more joined up, and lasting support for local veterans with mental health needs in the region. It aims to create safer places to receive support; better access and more effective pathways of care and support and exemplary people to assist with support.

The Westminster Centre for Research in Veterans is part of the University of Chester and aims to support the military community through innovative and high-quality research, educational provision and community engagement. Colonel (Rtd) Alan Finnegan, Professor of Nursing and Military Health is the University’s Armed Forces Champion and develops and supports the University’s Armed Forces Network as well as being Director of the Centre.

Collaborative projects across the region include:

  • Warrington Borough Council gave an overview of the Warrington Armed Forces support network which brings together key partners from across the Borough to review and coordinate support for Veterans and the Armed Forces.  Key priorities for the Group have included Remembrance and recognition, housing, mental health and access to employment. The Council have also supported the regeneration of Marshall Gardens in the town centre, a beautiful memorial garden in honour of the ‘Warrior Six’, six comrades tragically killed in Afghanistan in 2012. The mother of one of the Six was instrumental in driving the revitalisation forward and the gardens now include a Heroes Pathway, 12 themed benches and six cherry blossom trees, one for each of the Warrior Six, chosen as the short-lived blossom each year is a reminder that life is beautiful, yet fleeting.
  • Amongst many other initiatives, Cheshire West and Chester Council works alongside Jobcentre Plus with the provision of four Work Zones across the borough which aim to support adults back into work. They support ex-Service personnel in the borough to find good quality, sustainable jobs that utilise the unique skills that they have acquired during their Forces career. They also offer support in other areas such as benefits advice, childcare advice, debt advice and health support. Cheshire West and Chester Council have also initiated the NAAFI Break Drop-In Sessions in Ellesmere Port which offer a relaxed social environment for veterans to share experiences and make friends. It is also an opportunity to signpost those ex-servicemen and women in need of support to the most appropriate organisations.
  • Halton Borough Council is aiming to create a diverse team of voluntary Community Connectors, including a Veteran Connector, in support of a national NHS Improvement programme. This hopes to recruit, mobilise and support influential community connectors in taking practical action to improve health and reduce inequalities in the area, with the knowledge that people and communities often know what they need and what will work. Furthermore, the Halton Veterans Legion CIC is supported by Halton Borough Council and it runs several successful initiatives including a weekly programme of environmental improvement works, such as litter-picking, weed clearance and maintenance of cycleways. A ‘Social Supermarket’ has also been introduced which offers a wide range of produce at discounted prices, which is open to all, as well as a ‘Crew Room’ for veterans. This offers friendship, helps to relieve social isolation and offers the opportunity of friendship and shared experience in a safe and non-judgmental environment.
  • The Armed Forces Day event in 2022 was hugely successful in Cheshire East with 28,300 people attending over two days, helping to bring the whole community together. A huge number of stalls and exhibits and military vehicles were on display, along with a funfair and children’s activities to keep the whole family entertained. Work is already in place to ensure the day proves just as successful in 2023.

Cheshire East has also been involved in many other projects to improve the welfare of their veterans, including the very successful opening of new breakfast clubs in Alsager, Nantwich, Sandbach and Crewe, which are all seeing great attendance each week.

A project around inclusion of LGBT+ veterans within Crewe breakfast club has been developed, with some veterans admitting to feeling isolated and unaware of where they could go, but who now feel welcomed and appreciative of the social interactions this group offers.

Cheshire East has recently received a grant from the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust for a new digital project at the Royal British Legion Alsager branch to help tackle isolation and loneliness in veterans. Two weeks into the project and     many veterans have already been identified in care homes and it is believed this project will be a resounding success.

Professor Finnegan said: “The symposium provided an excellent opportunity to share the great work being delivered by Cheshire and Warrington organisations involved in delivering the Armed Forces Covenant.

“There is still plenty to do and that was made clear by the presentations by veterans and family members. I would like to thank those organisations that re-signed the Armed Forces Covenant and for providing their backing to continue to make Cheshire a great place for the Armed Forces Community to live.”

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Health and Social Care Westminster Centre for Research in Veterans