Mentoring conference delivers keynote wellbeing message

SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity, ran a wellbeing conference for their Mentoring Service volunteers in Oxford on 17 and 18 October.

The conference was attended by 107 volunteers, who came together to learn more about the service, the importance of wellbeing for themselves and their clients and to hear keynote speakers from the military and private sector, assisting them to give even better advice and support.

Clare Bain, SSAFA’s Mentoring Services Manager explained that the Mentoring Service was the only SSAFA service to have grown during Covid. In fact, it grew 127% in the first year of Covid, despite remote working, remote training and remote management.

Clare said:

“Support has been extended now to enable us to support the family, the service leaver and their spouse.  We support individuals and families exiting the military for any reason at all. We also support spouses independently of the service leaver and in cases of marital or relationship breakdown. In fact, the Defence Transition Service, that we see today, was created on the back of initial research into the Mentoring requirement, conducted in Catterick a few years ago.”

The first speaker, Eileen Wolmersley was from the Department for Work and Pensions. She gave excellent advice on the breadth and availability of income support and jobseeker’s allowance. On top of this, Eileen, as a member of a military family herself, gave invaluable insight into how to persuade mentoring clients, who may be reluctant to apply for benefits, to recognise that they are entitled and, indeed, have previously paid their taxes, precisely so that they can get help from the Government when they need it.

Eileen said:

“18 months ago the DWP created specific Armed Forces Champion (AFC) roles in every region of the UK. If you are a service person or ex-service person you should declare this at your job centre and they will assign you to your AFC who will be able to help.

“There are three things I want you to take away with you: Firstly, if you are a corporal or below and have a family, you will qualify for Universal Credit. Claim it. Secondly, even if you have a large medical payout, you can still claim benefits – speak to your AFC about this. Thirdly, spouses get 6 months Jobseeker’s Allowance every time they have to move. Claim it! This is your money and it is there to help you. We are there to help you!”

Following Eileen’s invaluable advice, Amazon’s (and ex-Para) Dan Hackett delivered an impressive pitch about why Amazon is a world leader in ex-military recruitment. Effectively, it boiled down to this:

“Amazon has woken up to the talents of service leavers and military spouses. We want them to work for us because of their previous training, not necessarily technical training, but their ethos.”

Emma Morgan, also from Amazon, explained the support that Amazon gives to its service leaver staff. As an ex-Army Legal Lawyer, Emma identified with the issues of losing the work culture and disorientation that can happen when moving from a highly structured organisation.

Emma said:

Amazon appreciates that service leavers are different. We have WhatsApp groups where ‘banter’ is permitted, we connect service leavers to each other and we make sure that their mental health is supported as there are often specific issues that only service leavers have.”

Mentors were all impressed by the array of support Amazon offers service leavers and most agreed that they would be more likely to recommend Amazon as an employer to their mentees.

Fighting With Pride is an LGBTQ+ charity run by Caroline Paige and Craig Jones. Their charity supports serving persons, veterans and their families. They spoke of their own stories and those of others. Everyone in the room was moved by their bravery and horrified by the inequality and shameful treatment of the LGBTQ+ community within the Armed Forces. Mentors were grateful for the insights and increased understanding that both of these outstanding individuals brought to them.

One woman shared the following with the conference: “[Due to the support I have had from Fighting With Pride] I no longer feel invisible. I can identify as a soldier. I can live the life I might have lived if I hadn’t been discharged for being gay. The emptiness  felt inside has left me and I have joined the WRAC [Women’s Royal Army Corps Association], which I thought I had no right to do before.”

Rachel Evans from Sodexo spoke about her experience as a mentor. From a service family background, Rachel has worked all over the world alongside the Armed Forces. Her experience of this life helps her understand her clients and she explained how she is supported in her role of mentor by her employer.

Nick Pollard from mental health charity Headway gave an excellent presentation about mental health issues within families. Particularly useful was the explanation of what mental ill-health looks like and how not to feel responsible when a person in your charge has mental health problems. Filled with practical advice, the presentation was aimed at youngsters but was easily translatable to the Mentor/Mentee relationship.

Landmarc rounded up the corporate presentations. Mark Neil, Managing Director, reiterated the importance to his industry of service leavers. In many instances Landmarc can only employ service leavers because the qualifications needed for certain jobs can only be found in the military. He urged Mentors to explain to their clients that, if they are wondering where they might fit in in the civilian employment pool, or how their (often niche) skillset can be transferred to a career on civvy street, to consider Landmarc.

In all, the Mentors were better armed to tackle their challenges on the way out of conference than on the way in. Everyone agreed that the corporate and charitable presentations had been eye-opening and helped them understand more of what their clients might be going through and how to signpost them.

Maggie Pedder, Mentor and Chair of Trustees for the Military Wives Choir said:

“The speakers were really interesting and enlightening and I certainly learnt a lot about Amazon and Fighting With Pride that I wasn’t aware of previously. The session on mental health and wellbeing were a good reminder to take care of yourself and how to spot stress and mental health issues in others… Can I say a big thank you to you and your team.”

Our Executive Members

By @Cobseo 54 years ago

Afghanistan support

In light of recent events in Afghanistan, please find information and support resources here