Back at the start of 2020, we were absolutely delighted to find out that we have been awarded two major Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust grants: Positive Pathways and Removing Barriers to Family Life. Both of which have and will continue to enable us to significantly develop our work across Wales over the next two years.
Since being established Woody’s has developed 3 major rural-based hubs in South, North, and West Wales plus 11 Urban Drop-in Centres throughout Wales. In that time, we have hosted more than 8700 and have provided support to more than 2800 beneficiaries in a wide variety of ways, from establishing friendships and contacts, supporting individuals in Mental Health units, custody suites and HMP.
Throughout the Covid-19 crisis, we have stayed in contact with Veterans, holding twice-weekly virtual drop-ins and other virtual events. Additionally, Woody’s has made over 2000 support visits and calls to vulnerable Veterans and families who were identified by staff or were referred to Woody’s from partner agencies throughout Wales.
Amazingly, our support work ‘Form filling’ in the last financial year has provided £380,000 in benefits and pensions payments for Veterans who believed they were not eligible.
Why Vale & Valley Veterans?
As reported in Wales Government ‘Wellbeing of Futures Generations Act’ and Public Health Report ‘The Needs of Armed Forces Veterans’, outdoor activities are considered significant to the delivery of good mental and/or physical health. The woodland development has always been central to our focus and ethos at Woody’s, and we see this grant as developing the foundation of the long-term establishment of our woodland based log cabin build. This has been supported by our veterans, families, partners, and visitors to Woody’s Lodge at Amelia Trust Farm.
This project is needed to cultivate and improve the support capacity previously available to Veterans across South Wales. Our first Support Officer position began in early 2018 and in the second year, 2,426 Veterans received support. With the additional stress and strain placed upon people due to the Covid-19 crisis requests for support are increasing. During the first 17 weeks of the COVID crisis, beginning 26 March 2020, the team in South Wales facilitated 555 referrals, calls and visits with only two members of staff and volunteers in accordance with Government Covid-19 guidelines. Since then, South Wales support referrals increased from 555 to over 800.
Additionally, over the last year meetings with a range of referral partners and local authority have established the need and relevance for outdoor activities which are in the developmental role at Woody’s Amelia Farm Site.
What will the funding pay for?
This grant will pay for the first year of a three-year project which will establish new enduring programs in art and outdoor activities that are known to aid in developing or maintaining positive mental health. Additionally, it will fund two members of staff who will ideally be Veterans themselves, another Support Officer and a new role of Assistant Support Officer in South Wales. These roles and activities are central to expanding our support of Veterans with Mental Health and Wellbeing concerns across South Wales.
Our Veteran Volunteers are continually refining the plans for the range of activities (Wild Camping, Bushcraft Schools, Nature trails and supporting wildlife projects, outdoor art classes, fitness and physical activity trails and regimes) that we will offer. Upon funding, we will immediately offer outdoor art and woodworking classes and wildlife projects which will assist in the development of the wider woodland project through the construction of signs for nature trails, the building of bird and bat boxes and other items for the woodland.
As well as funding the above activities, we will also undertake the repair of over 1km of pathways, over 200m of boardwalk, open up and restore outdoor classrooms, reintroduce the treetop gym and fitness trail and to rediscover and introduce new nature and exploration trails. Our Veterans and Volunteers are all eager to undertake this work to help establish the enduring programs and activities for themselves and others to benefit from. Woody’s Lodge will work with Military Preparation Training College and Armed Forces Cadet groups in enabling them to volunteer to repair and refurbish existing infrastructure within the woodland and conduct environmental and nature conservation work. This will support a much-needed link between veterans and younger people. Woody’s Lodge Volunteers will organise and run woodland activities.
Additionally, HAFAL is working in an advisory capacity with Woody’s on this project.
Woody’s Supporting Mental Health
Woody’s Staff and Trustees have undertaken a series of training courses such as Mental Health First Aid, MAPA, Physical First Aid and Dementia training which aids them in identifying Veterans with potential mental health needs. Woody’s has gained a reputation amongst the Veteran’s community in Wales, so often Veterans come to us looking for assistance and referrals to agencies that can assist them in gaining the help they need.
Fortunately, through our enduring relationship and partnership with NHS Veterans Mental Health Wales, Change Step, and Noble Mental Health Training, we have a network of trained and professional organisations that we can contact for assistance or refer Veterans to for assistance.
When will the Vale & Valley Veterans Project begin?
Once COVID restrictions are lifted, Veterans and their families from newly opened Woody’s Drop-ins (planned to open April/May 2021), for Merthyr Tydfil, Brecon, Pontypool and new links with Newport, Cardiff and Risca Hubs will have direct access to this project and wider Woody’s support systems.
We have already begun planning a lot of the work behind the scenes, we will let you know as soon as we are ready! If you’d like to know more about the project, you can contact us here.
Woody’s Lodge is a communications and social hub for veterans of the armed forces and emergency services, along with their families. We provide safe spaces for armed service veterans, recent leavers, reservists and those who served in the emergency services to socialise and access a wide range of health and social services.