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Supporting our Armed Forces heroes

In the first in our series of blogs about work being done to support Dorset's veterans, I take a look at the range of work taking place - some of it funded by my office.

The Armed Forces community plays a vital role in Dorset’s social, cultural and economic life. A huge proportion of our Dorset population have served, or grown up, in a Forces family.

As someone who goes all over our County and meets thousands of its residents every year, I know that our service personnel are close to your hearts, and mine.

And yet, the problems which veterans face, here in Dorset and across the rest of the country, are well known.

The transition to civilian life is not always easy and sadly, many have also been diagnosed with mental health difficulties including post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of their combat experiences.

Some become dependent on alcohol and drugs, some find it difficult to find work and some become homeless.

Nationally, there is a disproportionate number of veterans in prison and tragically, some have even taken their own lives.

My office has been doing a lot of work behind the scenes with charities and other organisations who help veterans, and over the next few months we will be supporting projects I hope will make a genuine difference. Breaking the cycle of despair, and repeat crime is an important part of my role.

For example, the Veterans’ Hub in Weymouth is a fantastic organisation which provides important peer support for ex Forces personnel and their families, set up by Andy Price, a former Rifles soldier from Portland.

My Safer Dorset Fund – which provides small grants to projects aimed at making a positive difference to the county’s communities – has now given funding to enable them to build a gym at their centre in Wyke Regis.

We all know the importance of exercise in boosting our mental health. For veterans – once very proud of their physicality but who may now suffer from mental health or physical issues, public gyms can be a step too far.

We have also been working with the Alabare charity, which provide homes for veterans who would otherwise be forced to sleep on the streets.

Their centre in Weymouth provides six beds and two dedicated support workers who can link residents up with support to deal with issues from depression to unemployment or family breakdown.

We are now providing a grant to clear up an overgrown piece of land at the back of their centre, creating a garden which can be used for counselling sessions and an allotment.

My office has also been liaising with the YMCA, who will now be prioritising homeless veterans in their communal living hostels, covering Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch. The YMCA has brilliant staff who will be able to provide a package of support for homeless veterans.

There are many other innovative schemes taking place, such as a careers fair for veterans held at Kingston Maurward on April 24, organised by the Dorset Armed Forces Covenant Programme.

These are just a few of examples of the work that is going on, but I hope to be able to announce many more projects which will help Dorset’s veteran community over the next year.

Nobody wants to see former servicemen struggling to cope. These heroes served and/or fought for our country. In many cases, they stepped towards danger for us, and many carry the scars, physically and mentally, that being brave left them with.

As a community, as a county, we must all work together to help the few heroes in our service community, who, for whatever reason, struggle to cope.

If you are a charity that works with veterans or the homeless, you can find out more about my Safer Dorset Fund here.

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