Online mentoring has been a lifeline for Scottish veterans during lockdown

An evaluation of a new online mentoring pilot has found that the scheme has had a significant positive impact on the lives of ex-Service personnel during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Shoulder to Shoulder Online, a unique online mentoring project run by volunteering charity TimeBank to support vulnerable ex-Service men and women in Scotland, has had a significant impact on their lives and wellbeing, says an external evaluation by research consultancy The Lines Between.

TimeBank has delivered face-to-face mentoring for ex-Servicemen, women and families in Scotland for more than six years – supporting those who are struggling to adjust to civilian life and reducing their social and economic isolation. The charity wanted to test the effectiveness of online mentoring and thanks to funding from Forces in Mind Trust, was able to develop and evaluate an 18-month pilot. The project began before the Covid-19 pandemic but was able to continue throughout the period.

The evaluation found that online mentoring helped veterans establish stability and routine and achieve positive change with 80% of participants reporting an improvement in their emotional wellbeing. Mentoring sessions were found to be vital in reducing isolation during lockdown, when much face-to-face support was unavailable. Participants agreed that online mentoring should continue beyond the pandemic, especially for those who have poor mobility, find it difficult to leave their homes or live in remote areas.

Volunteer mentors on the project reported a sense of satisfaction and increased confidence and said they had gained valuable skills and knowledge. The evaluation also noted widespread support for rolling out online mentoring, with its potential to increase engagement and make veteran support services more accessible and inclusive. Referral partners welcomed the additional support they could signpost veterans to.

The evaluation also tested the viability of the online platform developed by video technology company Odro, which allowed beneficiaries to talk to their mentors in real time as well as exchanging messages. It found it was an effective platform which both mentors and mentees felt comfortable and confident using.

TimeBank Chief Executive Phil Pyatt says:

“Some service veterans struggle to move on from the military and settle into civilian life. They may have complex problems including financial hardship, alcohol dependency and health issues. We are very excited to be able to reach out to many more veterans through this new online mentoring approach. It has been a lifeline for veterans in these challenging times and shown that innovations like this can ensure continuing support for those who need it.”

Ray Lock CBE, Chief Executive of Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT), says:

“During the Covid-19 pandemic, we are having to find new ways to reach those who require support after serving in the Armed Forces. But despite the challenges this year has presented, it has also provided opportunities to reconsider how best to provide these services. We now know that this kind of mentoring programme does not need to take place in person to be effective, and it has implications beyond the project for those providing support to individuals who are disabled or hard to reach. We applaud TimeBank for developing this pilot, which was clearly effective and had a positive impact on the lives of the ex-Service personnel who participated. I hope other charities and NHS services can learn from these findings and consider how they can most effectively support ex-Service personnel going forward.”

Lorraine Simpson, Managing Director of The Lines Between says:

“We’re excited to share this evaluation, which gives a real sense of the potential impact of online mentoring. We listened carefully as veterans shared their stories and experiences and we were struck by the profound changes that had taken place in their lives – some really transformational.”

You can see the full report here and a video about the evaluation here.

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