Ex-servicemen and women need our support ... and so do their families

We wanted to give our new Shoulder to Shoulder Families project a start point … an event … and make it an opportunity to meet with families and potential volunteers. So we planned a small low key occasion to mark its start.  

This was to be a practical event enabling us to gather information on what mentors want and, more importantly, on what family members need.

A mixture of people came along - current volunteers, potential volunteers and family members. One of our potential volunteers was an ex-serviceman who gave us a real insight into his experiences of leaving the Services and what he and his family had to deal with.

Everyone found it interesting – and for us, his input was invaluable. He spoke about the difficulties he had in doing simple things that many take for granted, for example registering for a GP when you have no NHS number because the whole family have only ever used military doctors in their adult lives.

Or having to choose your clothes after years of being told what to wear.  

The difficulties older children have when they are older than school age with no friends in a new place.

How hard it is to go from a high rank where you are called ‘Sir’ and your wife ‘Ma’am’ to being just like everyone else … 

We discussed how most military leavers’ packs don’t provide information for the wider family - they are very much focussed on the service leaver.  That’s understandable - but the family are also leaving their homes and all they know, with little support.

Finally and most importantly we had a useful discussion about mentoring itself. We agreed on the benefits of having group sessions that would provide practical support and advice to families but also opportunities for us to provide some structured training and talks to help families build their lives here in the West Midlands.

The session was enjoyable and really informative for us. Now we will be starting to build on those conversations to create a project which is valuable and as supportive as is needed.

Families of ex-service men and women face unique challenges in understanding and dealing with the issues their partners, sons and daughters are going through. They may also have been located in a variety of towns and countries so find it hard to settle into a new community.

Shoulder to Shoulder Families recruits and trains volunteers to act as mentors to help tackle isolation and signpost them to services to help. Take a look here for more information.