Virtual support sessions started during lockdown by the Armed Forces Community Support Hub in Exeter, will have long term benefits for the project after proving a hit with users.
The Hub (based in the Exeter CoLab), which provides support for veterans and their families across Devon, some of whom have complex mental health conditions including PTSD, depression and anxiety, received two grants from Devon County Council’s COVID-19 Prompt Action Fund, totalling over £5,000.
Unable to provide their usual face-to-face support, they used the money to help over 200 veterans, and their families, access online activities and meetings during the lockdown which were designed to help combat isolation, improve mental health and lessen anxieties surrounding the pandemic.
It’s been so successful that the project is now looking to continue the virtual support sessions in addition to its usual services, even when restrictions ease and face-to-face support is able to return safely.
Run by Hub staff, the online programme provided a variety of activities including cooking and nutrition, art and mindfulness, fitness, movement and Yoga classes as well as group sessions around mental health and mindfulness. In addition, the Hub also ran virtual quizzes, coffee mornings and support sessions for individuals and families.
The project has received positive feedback. Veterans who have accessed the programme said:
- “Without the support of the Hub, life would have been much more difficult. So a massive THANK YOU to the guys at the Hub and may it long continue with your support, as it really is an immensely important organisation that helps support Veterans.”
- “I am writing to support the Veterans Hub in Exeter. I was very isolated with mental health and physical health difficulties when I joined the hub last year. The hub has really helped with confidence building and support which I was unable to obtain through other agencies. Since joining the Veterans Hub I have made friends and set goals and challenges for myself with the confidence that the other veterans have given me. The current lockdown situation has been really difficult as I live alone and am shielding but the veterans weekly zoom meetings have provided regular support and friendship. It is essential that funding continues for the Veterans hub to support the mental and physical well-being of the members.”
- “Throughout this lock down crisis, Mark, Janine and Gary have been absolutely fantastic at keeping morale up by weekly events via Zoom, which has been an absolute lifeline to a lot of us veterans, especially like myself who live on their own. I have not felt at all isolated, as there has been a fantastic mix of things to choose from each week.”
In addition to the virtual support, the project was also able to buy four smart phones which have been loaned out to Veterans who would have been otherwise unable to access support during lockdown. Instruction on the use of these was also provided by the Hub team where needed.
The phones will continue to be loaned out in the future, providing a valuable way to help those who need it to learn new digital skills, such as how to apply for jobs online, as well as stay connected and access support.
Councillor Roger Croad, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member for Communities, said: “It’s great to hear about the excellent work that the Armed Forces Community Hub has been doing to support veterans and their families in such difficult times. I’m pleased that grants from the COVID-19 Prompt Action Fund during lockdown will have a lasting impact on the project and the support it provides, and I’d like to thank the project for their hard work. Now more than ever technology is so important for staying connected and helping build close knit communities – I’m glad to see it being used so positively. I have no doubt the virtual support offered will enable them to help even more veterans who may be struggling.
The Armed Forces Community Support Hub said: “The COVID-19 lockdown period has proven to be an extremely useful time for us, helping us to understand how quickly we can adapt our services to an online platform like Zoom and other similar providers. It has highlighted the benefits of home working when needed and how to continue supporting our clients online either as a group or 1-2-1. It has enabled us to stream-line our services for future bids, plan a variety of activities and to undertake essential research and continue, with little disruption, to provide a wide range of essential services to our Veterans where the larger charities/agencies have been unable to do so.”