Supporting our veterans

We’re committed to supporting armed forces veterans and their families living in our neighbourhoods. It’s important that our ex-servicemen and women have the support they need to re-engage with society and create a fulfilling life for themselves.

Our commitment was further strengthened in 2018 when we signed the Armed Forces Covenant with our Greater Manchester housing provider partners. The covenant has been created to raise awareness of the issues faced by veterans and to give them access to services that offer support and opportunities to progress.

Craig Hardman, Head of Homefinder Services, is Bolton at Home’s veterans’ support champion. He says:

“Leaving the military and going back to civilian life can be a very difficult transition. Men and women in the services get used to a strict routine and being told what to do. To then leave that structured setting and find a place in society with a home and a job is a big adjustment.

“Isolation, depression, addiction and unemployment are common among veterans. By signing the covenant we’re one of a number of organisations committed to making sure that veterans are not disadvantaged and have access to the same opportunities as everyone else.”

Veteran champions

As well as signing the covenant, we have gone one step further. We now have a network of staff across the organisation who’ve volunteered to support the ex-servicemen and women living in our communities. The initiative, led by Craig Hardman, will see our ‘veteran champions’ working with individuals and making referrals to services provided by us – such as money advice – and other specialist agencies. This means we can help with:

  • budgeting and debt advice
  • finding work
  • dealing with mental health problems
  • overcoming addiction
  • being an active member of the community.

Veterans and their families needing support should contact us on 01204 328000.

Other support available:

Veterans UK: Free Helpline (UK only) 0808 1914 218

SSAFA (formerly known as Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Family Association): 0800 731 4880

Combat Stress: 0800 138 1619

Royal British Legion: 0808 802 8080

Keith gets that community feeling back again

After nine years in the army, Keith Pollitt thought that life as a civilian would be easier. But a stint in prison, being a single parent to two boys and overcoming a life-threatening illness has been tough. Now able to see a better future for himself, 55-year-old Keith tells us his story.

“I was 19 when I joined the army. I wanted to be an engineer so I went into the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME). I did two years’ training and stayed in the army for a further seven years. There were highs and lows but looking back, I enjoyed being a soldier and feeling part of a community. I got the opportunity to go overseas and work with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which was a great experience.

“During the mid eighties, I did three tours in Northern Ireland. On the last tour, I was on night patrol when a television was dropped onto me from a flat above. All I remember is waking up in Cambridge Military Hospital. I suffered a broken neck and collarbone. If I hadn’t had my helmet on, I would have died.”

Leaving the army

“I left the army at 28 as a qualified and experienced engineer. But I struggled to find work and found it hard to adapt to civilian life. There wasn’t much support then and I probably wouldn’t have asked for it if there was. When I was in the forces, I was told to ‘put up and shut up’ so that’s what I did.

“I began drinking heavily – working up to a bottle of whiskey a day. One night, I got into a fight and was later convicted of assault. I spent seven months in prison. When I returned to Bolton, I managed to get work as a bouncer on the doors in town.

“By this time, I had two boys with my partner. The relationship didn’t last and I got sole custody. As a single parent with two kids aged one and three, life wasn’t easy. Money was tight and, after a few months, we ended up homeless. We were put into a homeless hostel in Farnworth and that’s where I met the person who would become my wife. She had three children of her own so when we eventually moved into a house on Johnson Fold, we had five children, aged one to five.”

Overcoming illness

“Things started to look up job-wise. I got work as an engineer, and then set up a steelworks and engineering company with a work colleague. We had 25 employees working on projects in Bolton and Manchester. Life was good for about eight years until I was diagnosed with bowel cancer. I had to have an operation which left me weak and I got sepsis twice. I recovered from that, but then contracted Necrotising Fasciitis – a bacterial infection which eats away at skin and tissue. I lost a large part of my abdomen and have since had 15 reconstructive operations.

“I was initially in hospital for seven months and while I was there, my wife moved out of our home. When I left hospital, money was still a problem. I got support from the Money Advice Team at my local UCAN centre which was a big help.

“It was at the centre where I later found out about a volunteer programme in Slovenia supported by Bolton at Home. They wanted people to go out there for a month and refurbish a respite centre for children with cerebral palsy. I was encouraged to go but I’d spent the previous two years at home on a feeding tube for 16 hours a day, so my confidence was low.”

Community life

“I decided to go to Slovenia and it changed my life. It gave me purpose and a sense of belonging again. When I got home I looked for other community projects to get involved in. ‘Men in Sheds’, a project supported by Bolton at Home, seemed like a good start. The project enables men to come together, get involved in practical tasks and socialise with each other.

“Nine months on and I’m now running the local group at Johnson Fold! We’ve managed to get a £1,500 grant to build a workshop for the community – so I’m working on that three days a week. It will be a great place for people to do all sorts of things like repairing bikes and building bird tables.

It’s such a good idea for ex servicemen like me who can relax and talk in a non judgemental setting.

I have to say that the team at the Johnson Fold UCAN Centre has been brilliant, giving me emotional and financial support. No-one needs to put up and shut up. There’s help in the community if you look for it.”

The Johnson Fold Men in Sheds group meets every Monday, 10am - 1pm at the Sabden Road allotments. Other groups are run at the Oldhams Estate, Breightmet, Willow Hey, Tonge Moor and Harwood. For more information visit meninshedsbolton.weebly.com

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