Volunteering to remember those who served their country

This week we are commemorating 70 years since the D Day Landings as well as, later in the year, the Centenary of the First World War. 

It is important that we remember those ex-Service men and women who have served their country in more recent conflicts too, so they can go on to lead productive civilian lives.

Veterans can face a whole range of difficulties after leaving the military, from unemployment to relationship breakdowns and mental health difficulties. Having a mentor can prevent these problems from spiralling and help people to get back on the right track.

As the Shoulder to Shoulder Project in the West Midlands gets closer to the end of its pilot, we’ve been looking at what works best and what we want to develop beyond the pilot. The Shoulder to Shoulder Drop-in which we set up last September has really grown - starting as simply a way to find out about mentoring and developing into a social network, a chance to sit down with other services who attend on a regular basis, like the Royal British Legion and Poppy Factory, as well as hearing from guest speakers like the Warrior Program or the local volunteer centre, BVSC.

Our volunteering day came out of one of these talks when Kim from the National Memorial Arboretum (NMA) came to talk to us about the site and the many ways that people can volunteer to support it. Kim inspired a group of veterans to sign up to a day volunteering in the grounds.

So on a rainy day last Wednesday, six veterans, two mentors and two TimeBank staff members boarded a mini bus in Birmingham and headed north to Alrewas in Staffordshire, the home of the NMA. With the main Armed Forces Memorial set atop a hill within the 150 acre site, it’s quite a stunning place. There are hundreds of memorials dedicated to regiments, squadrons and corps across the Services, both military and civilian. There are 50,000 trees, planted since 1997, many dedicated to individuals who have given their life in service.

The grounds are predominantly maintained by volunteers and so James, the Grounds' curator, is always keen to hear from groups and individuals who want to offer their time. 

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Despite the weather, after a warming cuppa we all cracked on, clearing six beds which make up the Royal British Legion's Women's Memorial and planting 100 golden grasses.

206 The day also created an opportunity for the guys to find the memorial commemorating their own regiment and to take some time to remember lost friends.

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Overall it was a very positive day, great to be part of and a strong direction for the Shoulder to Shoulder project to go in.

Here's what the veterans and mentors said: 

'Thank you for today. Really good day. Emotional times. Can't thank everyone enough,' said Ian. 

'Had a brilliant day, thank you so much for inviting me along,' said Deb, a mentor.

'If you plan another day I'd love to be part of it. I felt a lot of pride being part of the group; it was nice to give a bit back. I think you've really started something here,' said John.

More volunteering days for veterans and mentors will be organised over the summer.

Shoulder to Shoulder offers ex-Service men and women, who have had difficulty adjusting to civilian life, a one to one mentor for a specified amount of time. We take referrals for both veterans and their families from across the West Midlands.  If you are interested in getting involved as a veteran or as a mentor, take a look here or contact Jane, the Project Coordinator on 0121 236 2531, email janed@timebank.org.uk