Serving men and women, reservists, veterans and their families make up the armed forces community, which is dispersed across Hampshire. While many of their needs are similar to those of other communities, service life brings additional pressures which Hampshire County Council seeks to understand and respond to through all its services.
Separation and the stress of frequent postings to conflict zones impact on family members and many veterans have physical or psychological needs which may not be revealed until later life.
Understanding and responding to the needs of our armed service community is no different from the approach that we take to other distinct communities. Successfully implemented, our approach will improve the quality of the services provided and reduce their costs.
Hampshire has three key aims in supporting the armed forces community: no disadvantage; smooth transition; and best use of resources.
We believe forces personnel should suffer no disadvantage as a result of their service to the country. Much of our work in this area is directed through our adult social services and schools.
Each day, more than 5,000 children from forces families attend Hampshire's schools. Teachers have responded, offering buddy classmates to help foster mutual understanding. Managing the fallout of serious injury, marriage breakdown or bereavement is commonplace and these pastoral skills benefit local children.
One soldier commented: "When the class teacher found out I was on overseas deployment she taught the children about the Falklands. My son felt really proud of his Dad rather than unhappy."
And we have also supported ‘Reading force', a project involving children and families from Aldershot schools sharing reading topics with their absent serving parent. This is being rolled out in neighbouring counties.
The Hampshire Economic Military Partnership works with all three services and the Career Transition Partnership, holding regular employment fairs to ease transition to civilian life.
We also support Mike Jackson House, which provides help and accommodation for service leavers and veterans. When Dave, aged 22, was discharged from the Army with an injury he had no job and nowhere to go. Mike Jackson House encouraged him to go to night school and helped him access funds through the Royal British Legion to pay his first three months accommodation at university, where he is now studying journalism.
With strong political support, Hampshire has been working with district and unitary authorities, health, and the military, charitable and voluntary sectors to improve the way in which services are delivered to the armed forces community. This has improved understanding and trust and is seen as vital at a time when the resources of each group are being squeezed.
Hampshire's approach has been formalised through its selection as one of the Welfare Pathway Pilots and through being one of the first local authorities to sign the Armed Forces Community Covenant.
Meanwhile, the support work goes on. This summer, Calshot Activity Centre will offer 100 subsidised places for service personnel children to take part in residential adventure and sailing weeks as a result of a successful bid to the Covenant Grant fund and match funding from the county council.
Cllr Ken Thornber is Leader of Hampshire County Council
8 June 2012