Young people walking past Verve foster care recruitment in Armed Forces uniform.

Armed Forces Veterans support their community with compassion and love.

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Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Verve Community is the ‘fostering tent’ in the middle of a field of squaddies, RAF, RNA, and veteran’s groups; it sticks out like a sore thumb at the Warrington Armed Forces Day this year. We are a community built on compassion and love within the Armed Forces to support veterans, young people, and children. The chief aim is, wherever possible, to prevent people from becoming vulnerable and draw support from a community built on kindness and compassion for others. 

The idea began when I helped set up the original Salford Veterans Breakfast Club at Pendleton Church over seven years ago. They built the breakfast club ethos from a community of Armed Forces Veterans who met, had breakfast, banter, and a brew. It worked; friendships grew, and many veterans look forward to Saturday mornings at a Breakfast Club; it is the highlight of their week. Now, for the recruitment events, such as the Tom Sephton Memorial trophy, we love to attend; it doesn’t matter if we stick out like a sore thumb; we are the fostering tent, and that’s a label I am happy to hold.

Foster carers support vulnerable children with kindness and compassion.

Not that Armed Forces connections matter as I recruit foster carers for the Not-for-Profit sector. However, many Veterans are foster carers; they have been fostering children for years, and because of their compassion and kindness, the children they care for thrive within the families to which they belong. Of course, Veterans understand how important it is to feel you belong; it is inherent in belonging to the Armed Forces and why breakfast clubs and community centres work. The feeling of belonging for vulnerable groups, including Armed Forces Veterans, families, young people and children, is a feeling that matters most. 

Chance meetings create communities built on compassion and love.

I have recruited foster carers for the Not-for-Profit sector for the last four years; throughout my work, I have met many people that apply kindness and compassion to their lives. One of these is Major Chris Chudleigh. I didn’t go out looking for Chris; he found me from a mutual friend, Alan Boyle. 

Al is also an Armed Forces Veteran. I know Al because he organises Armed Forces rugby events and is a wonderful, kind, and compassionate man. Al said Chris wanted to recruit Armed Forces Veterans for the Re-Engage project in the North West. Al explained that Re-Engage helps young people in mainstream schools to adjust back to life after lockdown with mentors of Armed Forces Veterans using sports like rugby and boxing. Chris set up Re-Engage to prevent school exclusions because he wanted to reduce the number of young people facing exclusion, which meant using expensive alternative education provisions and stopping criminal exploitation from those lurking around school gates. Would I help? Of course, I would…

Armed Forces Veterans have compassion and empathy for children & young people.

My previous recruitment experience was working for a large Independent Fostering Group that bought up smaller agencies. Their acquisitions included alternative education provision and residential children’s homes; their portfolio was impressive. However, they were for-profit, and shareholders’ and directors’ bonuses were huge; it was big money. Also, something was missing from corporate life that didn’t sit well with me. There was a lack of kindness and compassion.

Maybe I am sensitive, but meeting targets and becoming a one-stop solution for Local Authorities’ children’s services didn’t feel right. It wasn’t for me.

There was a demographic of communities they wanted to recruit, the Armed Forces Veterans. They were an analytic of society which social media campaigns struggled to connect with, possibly because Veterans didn’t resonate with social media. They resonate with the importance of feeling you belong. For them, it’s not money; it’s compassion and kindness to children and young people with safe and loving foster homes where they, too, belong. 

There’s another demographic community based on compassion and love that understands the importance of collaborating data to protect vulnerable Armed Forces Veterans and Care Leavers, Safe Guarden CIC. 

Paul Sandelands – CDD services and Safe Guarden CIC

Compassion and love are not a weakness.

For many Armed Forces Veterans, compassion and kindness are their depths, especially to vulnerable children. We don; t see them as weaknesses, nor do the Veterans I know; they are our strengths. However, in civvy street, many don’t recognise the importance of integrity for Armed Forces Veterans; their egotism drives them as they view compassion and kindness as a weakness from which they profit. More fool them.

Behind, many Veterans’ compassion and kindness is a hard steel determination to do what is right for vulnerable children; they recognise the skills learned in the Armed Forces are what we need to help young people today.

Major Chris Chudleigh

Major Chris Chudleigh – a man of compassion.

When Major Chris Chudleigh started the Re-Engage project, it was because he understood how vital compassion is, especially for young people today. His compassion and care for young people are the driving force behind Re-Engage.

Re-Engage is a programme built on the School of Hard Knocks, which Chris designed to support young people using sports. These included rugby and boxing and involved young people moving out of the classroom and learning away from classrooms. Chris wanted to engage with other Armed Forces Veterans with the skills he and young people needed, so I wrote a blog to promote Re-Engage; Hopefully, we would find Veterans to support him at the Lowry Academy in Little Hulton.

So, I wrote https://ververecruitment.org/armed-forces-veterans-re-engage-students-as-mentors-in-local-schools/, and immediately it resonated as Veterans came forward to help. And this is how we found Armed Forces Veteran Nathan Pickering…

Nathan Pickering in full army uniform smiling
Nathan Pickering

Nathan Pickering, Armed Forces mentor at the Lowry Academy.

Chris has been at the Lowry Academy for over three months with Nathan; Nathan will fly solo after Christmas. It is an immense honour for Nathan as he has struggled with PTSD after leaving the forces. Nathan’s training with Chris and the skills he learned from his armed forces career helped Nathan forge solid relationships with young people in his class. For Nathan, engaging with young people at the Lowry is not about his ego; his driving force is understanding and treating young people with respect. However, Nathan helps young people to understand respect is not free; you earn it; it is not an entitlement.

Achieving this is no mean feat, as many had become wholly disengaged in school after the lockdown. Sadly, many of these pupils faced exclusion; subsequently, they would need alternative education provisions. (Can you see where I’m going with this?) Also, the lure of criminal exploitation and the ‘easy life’ waited at the school gates. Chris also led me to Jordan Swain…

Jordan Swain in his Armed Forces Uniform
Jordan Swain-1st Battalion, The Duke of Lancaster

Jordan Swain, my Foster carers, ADHD and life in the Armed Forces.

Chris spoke of the inspirational people he has met. I asked, is there anyone who stood out? Chris said, yes, Jordan Swain. Chris said Jordan had gone into care when he was ten (on his tenth birthday) because his mum couldn’t cope with his behaviour anymore. Jordan went into foster care, and the positive support from his foster carers, especially his foster dad, helped him control his behaviour after being diagnosed with ADHD. Also, Jordan and his mates had a brush with the law at 16; it led to a decision. Either they had a criminal record at 16 or went to Harrogate with Wigan Youth Zone and considered a life in the Armed Forces.

Once Jordan completed his training at Harrogate, he signed up. His mates didn’t sign up, but Jordan knew he had to do something with his life. He was coming up to 16; the clock was ticking, and he was in foster care. Thankfully, his support within his Armed Forces family makes him feel he belongs, and now his mates are in the same battalion together on a two-year tour in Cyprus; Jordan feels settled and content. Read Jordan’s story here at https://ververecruitment.org/adhd-my-foster-carers-my-life-in-the-armed-forces/.

Did you know that over 68% of children in care are boys over ten?

Did you know over 68% of children in care are over ten years of age? Over half are boys and are the hardest to place with foster carers. Mainly, it’s because of a label which does not represent the child or the journey they travelled in life so far. They are labels fostering agencies used to charge more money for their foster carers, but with kindness and compassion, from foster carers who understand, we remove labels and see the child. 

Many young people in the Re-Engage programme have labels attached. They are disruptive; they have complex behavioural issues, and without support, face exclusion from mainstream schools. Many are foster children; they have moved around and were not as lucky as Jordan; they don’t have foster carers with the skills and experience to meet their needs. Many of these have lived in children’s homes; they have become institutionalised.

For these young people, the biggest challenge they face is the ticking clock of a 16th birthday. Sadly, the private businesses that profit from alternative education provision and residential children’s homes, not to mention those who charge more for foster carers for older children with labels attached, didn’t put money aside from the vast profit made to help young people as they collect their next label. They are now care leavers.

Verve community; a collaboration of compassion for the future…

Verve community campaigns initially recruited foster carers for the Not-for-Profit sector, but COVID had other ideas. As communities closed in, we grew closer, and I started campaigns, including the Knitting Baby Clothes Appeal, to support vulnerable groups. These vulnerable groups included Armed Forces Veterans, families and young mums with babies, and children and young people in care who needed foster carers more than ever. Thankfully, with the support of the Ladies who Knit and our Armed Forces community, we have collaborated and formed partnerships for the future built on compassion and love.

We need more Veterans to become mentors for young people in our local schools and prevent exclusions. We also want to make sure we keep young people safe from criminal exploitation and continue the vital work of Re-Engage. However, we need partnerships with people who understand the importance of kindness and compassion and enable our young people to live where they feel they belong. If you want to learn more about Verve, Re-engage and our collaboration partners, including CDD services and Safe Guarden CIC, or to foster vulnerable children in care, please get in touch on the form below.

Finally, when one of ours is down, we don’t turn away…

Finally, recently the Salford Veterans Community Centre closed its doors. It needs a helping hand; as we know, community groups are the backbones of our community; we cannot afford to lose the support they offer our communities. But they need practical help from those with proven experience. People who will roll up their sleeves and share their knowledge without seeing the pound signs to help the community centre to re-group. Maybe you are a larger organisation that could share experiences without cost. Maybe you are an accountant with the heart to give a helping hand. How many of us can say we haven’t needed a hand sometimes? I know I have.

Get in touch on the form below, and I’ll pass your details on to Carl Blower. After all, it’s not about the money; it’s about doing the right thing, isn’t it?   

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