Stories

Michael and Robert

Michael says:With a few hours to spare each week I decide to volunteer with Shoulder to Shoulder and help support a veteran.  The induction training provided me with a good overview about Shoulder to Shoulder and the new role that I had volunteered for.  I met up with my mentee Robert and the project co-ordinator Ali to see if we might be a good match and want to meet up regularly. 

The mentoring process was helpful to provide a structure for the meetings and give initial direction, which is important in the early days when new to the project.  Robert and I met every few weeks, usually at one of the local cafes and we would spend an hour or more together, talking over his week, the activities that he had been involved in and things that had been going well and not so well. 

Completing the Shoulder Mentoring Action Plan was helpful as it kept us both focused on areas that Robert wanted to work on, by clearly setting out his goals, the stops that he could take to achieve them and the possible people and resources that might help him to achieve them.  An important and interesting part of the mentoring relationship is the Shoulder Star Assessment which was completed by us both every few months and helped Robert to see the areas in which he had achieved. Over the year that Robert and I met we completed a range of goals and could see the gradual and consistent changes that were taking place by completing the Should Star Assessment. 

It was very rewarding to gradually get to know Robert and share in the developments that were taking place in his life and overtime I learned about some of the situations that contributed to his developing PTSD when in the forces.  Through Shoulder to Shoulder I have been able to make a small contribution in helping someone who gave lots to our country and is now enjoying a good life.  I enjoyed being a volunteer and hope to continue in the role in the future.

Robert, in his early thirties, was in the army for four years, including Iraq, and came out in 2007. The transition was difficult, particularly thinking about where to settle down, and he had issues with anxiety. He was keen to get into volunteering, further study and then employment, however being anxious was difficult as this meant being in crowds. His mentor helped by being some he could talk through his issues with and they often went walking together to keep fit.

Each time they met Robert felt less anxious and they looked at ways to help combat this. Robert liked walking and took part in organised walks in Scotland and then on to a physical activity group where he took the lead and enjoyed encouraging others to take exercise. This gave him the confidence to think about getting back into work. He updated his CV and volunteered for the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme, helping to train Army Cadets. Robert also moved out of veterans’ accommodation to independent living. He is doing really well and was delighted to be successful in a job interview that enabled him to stay on as an employee working with the Army cadets.

If you’d like to know more about Shoulder to Shoulder Erskine, take a look here

Dougie and Cathy

Ali is project co-ordinator for our Shoulder to Shoulder Erskine project, which supports veterans and their families in the often difficult transition to civilian life. Here she tells of the impact the project has had on one veteran and his volunteer mentor.

It’s a lovely summer day at Erskine Home in Renfrewshire, Scotland, and I’m sitting outside Harry’s café with Dougie, a veteran, and Cathy, his volunteer mentor. They have been meeting twice a month for nine months and with all the banter going around, it’s easy to tell they know each other well.

I first met Dougie when I dropped in at Gardening Leave, a charity which provided horticultural therapy for veterans, now Glen Art.  Dougie still attends horticultural activities based at the Erskine Home gardens twice a week where he has been going for seven years.

Having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has been difficult for Dougie and horticulture at Erskine is his safe place. We all know how easy it is doing the same routine, but Dougie was in real need of a change. He needed that bit of extra support to enhance his confidence, self-esteem and reduce his anxiety.  As he says: “It’s hard to get out of your comfort zone.”

I introduced Dougie to Cathy, and with a good sense of humour, I knew she would be good to lift his spirits. “Cathy and I clicked. I can say anything I want and she listens. It is easy to talk to each other,” he says.

Dougie wanted to focus on goals for the days he wasn’t at Erskine. They first got to know each other by going for a coffee and a chat, going to different museums and setting a plan of action.

Driving his own car is fine for Dougie, but he is anxious about being in crowds and noise, which means using public transport can be an issue, as well as shopping at the local supermarket. This is where Cathy has been a great support as a mentor. With her help, Dougie has set goals to reduce feeling anxious. They will both go on the same train – sitting in different carriages so Dougie can call if in need of help.

They also go to the local supermarket with the aim of Dougie sourcing a few items, while Cathy stands outside. They’ve also built up the length of time spent shopping. Dougie says: “Goals were difficult at the start, however Cathy is good at pushing me; my confidence and self-esteem have improved and I can now go to shops on my own and not feel as anxious going to new places.”

Dougie is also enjoying finding new activities with Cathy, such as swimming and trail walking. “It works both ways,” says Cathy. “I’m surprised I enjoyed places I never thought would interest me. I see things from a different point of view and it’s been a lot more interesting than I expected.”

Goals have been going so well for Dougie that he has been able to move home, he’s gained skills in budgeting from the local money advice centre, and he is increasing his physical fitness and contacting old friends. He is also looking to get back into employment after Cathy told him about Employ-able, a project she had learned more about at a TimeBank Mentor Information day. Employ-able, funded by Poppyscotland and run by the Scottish Association for Mental Health, provides one-to-one support, workshops, training and advice to veterans in search of a job.“It’s important as a mentor that I signpost Dougie onto others types of support too,” says Cathy.

Dougie came along with me to speak at a focus group about the importance of asking for help and the way support from a mentor can help with the transition to 'Civvy Street'.  But it was his last comment that really got me. He said “You know, Cathy made me human again. We are going to stay friends.”

If you would like to find out more about Shoulder to Shoulder Erskine, call Ali on 07437 437 867, or email ali@timebank.org.uk. You can also find out more here.

Douglas and Bruce

Douglas, a veteran, was referred to Shoulder to Shoulder Erskine by Scottish Veterans Residences (SVR), as he had recently become unemployed and had to sort some final things out with his ex-employer, was struggling financially and moved to SVR’s supported accommodation.

Douglas says: “I was confused, I would feel high one day and then low the next. One of the hardest things is to ask for help; however I knew I needed further support.

Then, Ali, the Project Co-ordinator introduced me to Bruce. I soon found that we got on well together; have the same sense of humour and had a lot in common, as he is also a veteran. Before I had a mentor, I wasn’t getting out of the house much, I was becoming a recluse. Just knowing that I was going to meet Bruce every fortnight was everything, especially as we got on so well. I really liked having a mentor and one to one support. I can relate to Bruce. We went to museums, days out and chatted about my issues over coffee. I also now have the motivation to take part in exercise and feel healthier.”

Bruce, who is also a volunteer befriender at Erskine in Edinburgh, says: “You know, I have learned a lot from Douglas too; we have a lot in common and enjoy history and going to historical places on days out. When I met with Douglas the second time, he let out all of his frustrations and then the next time we met, he seemed more relaxed and we got to know each other better. It helps that Douglas has been honest and open with me and that makes the mentor/mentee relationship easier.

Three months later, Douglas was settled in non-supported accommodation, had sorted out issues with his previous employers and was financially better off. "We continue to meet once a week and are looking to explore other historical places to visit."

Douglas adds: “I’m so glad that with the support of SVR and referring me to TimeBank’s Shoulder to Shoulder Erskine project, I am now a much happier person. This has been very beneficial for me and I’ve made a friend in Bruce. I would really recommend the programme to other veterans in need of support in their transition to civilian life.”

If you would like to find out more about support from a mentor or would like to volunteer, call Ali on 07437 437 867, email ali@timebank.org.uk or find out more here.

Janet is a volunteer mentor on our Shoulder to Shoulder Families project in Birmingham

Janet, pictured here on the right, told us:

I heard about Shoulder-to-Shoulder when a fellow student on a 'helping skills' adult education course gave a presentation about how it was helping veterans and their families.  It was then that I decided to get involved as a volunteer mentor as I had some spare time on my hands as a carer to my son and had also gained qualifications in 'helping skills' and 'mentoring'.

Shoulder-to-Shouldercarefully matched me up with two family members of a veteran and I felt I was able to offer empathy and a deep understanding of their situation, due to similar experiences as a parent and carer.

Over several months, we developed a supportive relationship based on mutual trust and respect and I was able to help them find the right direction and develop solutions to various difficult and challenging issues in their lives.

By helping them to think through problems and introducing them to new ideas, this encouraged them to view issues from another perspective and to look at positive choices.

Mentoring has taught me that it is an unpredictable process, there is no magic wand or quick fix, change and hope take time, trust and real listening skills.  I was able to use the knowledge gained on my courses to help the mentees to discover their strengths and to progress, both as individuals and as a strong family unit.

Mentoring has been great for me in a variety of ways.  It has provided that wonderful feeling you get when you help someone and make a difference to his or her life.  Mentoring has allowed me to do things that feel meaningful and it has been rewarding in that I did something that matters.  I have discovered that when you give mentees new ideas and open doors for them, it opens up an entirely new path and truly changes their lives and it felt rewarding to be able to share the idea that anything is possible.

Karen, a social worker, started mentoring on TimeBank's Shoulder to Shoulder project last February

During her time in the Officer Training Corps she’d heard about PTSD, but it wasn’t until it affected a friend of hers that she saw its full impact.

That inspired me to volunteer for Shoulder to Shoulder, as a way to offer practical support to someone who’d been through a bad time and now wanted to move forward in her life. You’re not there as a professional adviser or counsellor, but to offer practical help and encouragement.”

Karen was matched with a young woman who had served in the Royal Artillery in Iraq, and who felt isolated and depressed.  They met for a few hours every month, getting to know each other and identifying future goals. “There’s no set pattern - it very much depends on what your mentee wants to achieve,” says Karen.

“We got on really well and it’s been terrific to see her confidence grow as we’ve tackled different situations, like making journeys to new places or trying social activities."

“The training and support provided by TimeBank staff has been excellent. They are always ready to answer any questions so you never feel alone.  It’s been a really positive experience and I’ve enjoyed it tremendously. Best of all, I’ve made a wonderful new friend. Even though our mentoring relationship is now over, we’ll keep in touch.”

34 year old Jamie Boyle has been a mentor for TimeBank's Shoulder to Shoulder project since last October.

Having spent six years with the Royal Artillery he’d seen the impact of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and recognised that there was a real gap in provision for former servicemen and women who were recovering from mental health problems.

“Shoulder to Shoulder is for veterans who have been through a bad time and received clinical support but now need some help to move forward in their lives. You’re not expected to be there as a professional adviser or counsellor, but to offer practical help and friendship. I like to think of myself as a handrail – a support to the next stage of my mentee’s life.”

After being carefully matched, the pair meet for five hours a month for six months to a year. Jamie says: “We’ll have a coffee or go for a walk, get to know each other and bounce ideas around. There’s no set path – it very much depends on what your mentee wants to achieve. And the arrangement is very flexible - even when we’re not due to meet up, we’ll often chat on the phone. “

“We don’t tend to talk about what’s happened in the past – the focus is very much on the future. For us, the relationship is partly established on the grounds of a shared military background and understanding the culture, but there is no perception – or mention – of rank, regiment or anything that could affect the mentoring relationship. And I know that for some veterans, having a volunteer with a military  background isn’t necessary.  What’s really important is time, patience and an undertanding of the issues.”

Jamie says the training and support offered by the project staff has been invaluable. “At any point during the process you can ask the Shoulder to Shoulder team if you have any questions or doubts. Both sides can say if they don’t feel it is working out for them.”

“My mentee and I have got on really well, and we plan to stay in touch afterwards. I hope I’ve brought something to the relationship, that my mentee has gained trust and confidence, realised that he’s not alone and that it is possible to move forward. From my point of view, it feels like a vital and life-changing project and I’ve enjoyed it immensely.  I’ll certainly be doing it again.”

Ian Smith, known as Smudger, served in the RAF as a Survival Equipment Fitter

After leaving the RAF Ian found seasonal work at Birmingham International Airport as a Ramp Agent, which inspired him to look into a career in the budding airline industry.  He applied to join the Cabin Crew at Orian based at East Midlands Airport, but flying out of several UK airports.

“As a man who just adored flying I was extremely happy that I had chosen to this type of employment but unfortunately it was short-lived as I had an accident in 1988 resulting in me needing brain surgery for a blood clot, and suffering from a stroke in this surgery.”

“Since then I have been to Aston University and carried out a vast amount of voluntary work in the disability sector. I also worked as a Mentor for Offenders in the Probation Service and as a Personal Advisor for Young People regarding their employment/education options until I was made redundant in Government cuts.”

“I am currently involved in TimeBank’s volunteer mentoring project, Shoulder to Shoulder, which supports veterans who have been operational in War zones at various locations in the world, and who are affected by symptoms of Post Dramatic Stress Disorder or other conditions. Being a mentor is rewarding and multi-faceted:  I have personally been involved with issues around homelessness, benefit support, advocacy, and most importantly of all, listening to people’s personal problems.”  

“I really enjoy working with ex-service veterans like myself needing my understanding, communication, empathy and general assistance through listening. The main part of being a mentor is to offer practical support and friendship– you’re not there as a professional to advise or counsel them.”

“I also appreciate the opportunity of being able to support my brothers and sisters from the Army, Royal Air Force, and Royal Navy and I will continue to offer my support  on a weekly basis.”