FORCES veterans are being urged to consider volunteering to give a valuable boost to their transition into civilian life.
Charity running specialist veteran volunteering programme
The Step Together charity runs a specialist programme, Rehabilitation through Volunteering, aimed specifically at service leavers to share the benefits of volunteering with the forces community.
Training and support is provided throughout the process and veterans who have used the service say their decision to give their time for free has been life-changing.
How volunteering led to new business idea
Mike Harrison served in the Royal Artillery for 25 years before he was diagnosed with PTSD and began his discharge from the army.
“The difficult times began long before that though,” he said. “We were preparing to go on tour again and when we got out there, it was horrific. You don’t want to be that person but I was.”
Mike began by volunteering at a local school in Chippenham where he met people with similar interests and was encouraged to retrain as a crafts instructor.
He said: “I was suicidal and at rock bottom. My life had gone from a successful career in the Army to a hopeless future of nothing. I had lost my identity and purpose.
“When I first heard about volunteering, I thought why bother as I need a job, but now I realise how volunteering can help.
“Volunteering has been amazing. I have made so many contacts and got so much experience and it’s led to a job. I just can’t believe how much I have got from it.
“I kind of imagined I would be working in an office somewhere, managing something or other whereas it was a very, very lovely surprise to realise I didn’t have to do that.”
Gain new skills through volunteering
Army veteran Rachel Willis was signed off sick and awaiting medical discharge after 21 years in the military, when she met Elaine, volunteering project manager at Step Together.
Rachel, who lives in Durrington, was attending a course at Tedworth House, a Personnel Recovery Centre in Tidworth, when Elaine ran a session on the benefits of volunteering, such as building self-esteem, gaining new skills and experience and improving mental health.
Rachel began by volunteering on a Breaking Ground Heritage archaeological dig on Salisbury Plain, getting stuck in with cleaning the finds, as well as excavating.
Rachel is also a keen gardener, and Elaine helped her to apply for a volunteer role at Heale House Gardens, a stately home near Salisbury. Working under the guidance of the Head Gardener, she began increasing her horticulture knowledge.
“Volunteering pushed me out of my comfort zone and into new things that I had always wanted to try but never had the time or opportunity. The Step Together staff are really personable, patient and helpful in finding out what interests you and what you want to try, whether that be hobby or work-related or just a reason to get out of the house,” Rachel said.
As a result of volunteering, Rachel decided she would like to pursue a career in horticulture and has been studying for a Royal Horticulture Society qualification as well as continuing volunteering at the gardens. Rachel was officially discharged from the Army on January 10 and now feels much more positive about her future.
Rachel said, “As soon as I did my first volunteering session, I felt my confidence grow. I have enjoyed the experience immensely. Volunteering has really opened my eyes to new opportunities and that life doesn’t end when you leave the Forces, in fact it’s a new beginning.”
Rachel has since been offered part-time paid employment at Heale House Gardens.
“I really couldn’t have envisaged things working out as they did but things just seemed to fall into place,” said Rachel.
Tailored volunteering opportunities
Every year, Step Together helps over 300 wounded, injured and sick service personnel and veterans across the UK rebuild their lives, through one-to-one support and active engagement in the local community. In partnership with the Ministry of Defence and Help for Heroes, Step Together provides volunteering support to all Personnel Recovery Centres.
Josie Clarke, head of programmes at the charity, said: “At Step Together we provide intensive support and really tailored volunteering opportunities, that are unique to each individual. Volunteering allows clients the chance to experiment with different interests and strengths and consider other career routes, which could lead to more sustainable employment down the line.
“By re-connecting and engaging with and in their local communities, our clients see an improvement in their physical and mental wellbeing, assisting in their transition into civilian life.”
Find out more about volunteering
You can find out more about the Step Together programme and access the charity’s support to find a volunteering opportunity, by visiting their website or by calling 0117 955 9042.
Step Together is also recruiting for volunteers to help promote our service and provide additional support to veterans on the programme. If you are interested in volunteering with the charity, more information on how to get involved can be found on their website.