Helping veterans and families overcome isolation in Thornbury

June 19 2019
Helping veterans and families overcome isolation in Thornbury

A NEW initiative has been set up by Thornbury’s branch of the Royal British Legion to help forces personnel past and present and their families who may feel isolated.

For the first time, a monthly coffee morning is being held to bring people together who have had similar experiences. Visitors will be brought in from other organisations, such as the Changing Lives charity and the CAB, to give advice.

The idea is part of a national project called Building Connections, set up by the Royal British Legion in response to its own research.

Its study received 4,900 responses from veterans, serving personnel and their families, with 1 in 4 saying they feel socially isolated.

John Black, from the Thornbury branch of the RBL, was in the forces himself from 1961 to 1970.

He said: “If you’ve not done it, there’s no way that you would understand some of the stresses and pressures, not just for the serving personnel but for their families.

When I was posted abroad for 18 months, I left my pregnant wife alone in Plymouth with no friends, family or support. It was hard for me – but much harder for her”.

It’s the transitions in life which are unique to forces’ families: moving house, moving post, moving children frequently to new schools, trying to integrate into already tight-knit communities or leaving the forces for civilian life.

Sometimes the consequences of managing these changes are tragic. RBL research shows that in 2018, 71 military personnel and veterans took their own lives. That is more than the number of battlefield casualties in 11 out of the 13 years that British troops were in Afghanistan.

John said: “The other issue is that the culture of the forces is about building independence, self-reliance and strength of character, so there is a perceived stigma attached to asking for help.

In Thornbury, our first step is to try and open up the coffee morning. We don’t know who these people are – it’s about opening the door, shouting from the rooftops and saying ‘hey guys, we’re here’.”

Thornbury’s branch of the Royal British Legion has 50 members and is growing. Its next coffee morning is on July 11 at Hawkes House from 9.30am until 11.30am.

Picture: Thornbury Royal British Legion's coffee morning at Hawkes House.