A North East charity which helps ex-service personnel adjust to civilian life is serving up new opportunities for its clients after completing the refurbishment of its kitchen facilities.
Forward Assist provides information, advice, guidance and opportunities to former military personnel who are experiencing difficulties in returning to Civvy Street, and has helped more than 200 people from across the region this year alone.
Based at the John Willie Sams Centre in Dudley near Cramlington, the charity has been looking to upgrade its existing kitchen facilities in order to offer new work experience, training and employment opportunities within its cafe, as well as to provide an improved meeting space that can be used by both the charity and local people.
A £5,000 grant from regional employer The Banks Group’s Banks Community Fund enabled the charity to get things moving, and having completed work on the project, it is now looking to encourage as many people as possible to pay a visit to the cafe to see what’s on offer.
New furnishings, crockery, cutlery and signage have all be brought in, along with a new professional coffee machine and a new electronic digital till system.
The cafe, which is the only public space of its kind in the local area, has also been fully redecorated, and the charity is now looking for an accredited partner that can help deliver training in areas including hospitality, catering and food safety.
Forward Assist’s services are delivered by a six-strong team of employees with the support of around 25 regular volunteers, and it has provided information advice & guidance to over 2,000 veterans since it was set up in 2013.
It takes a fully inclusive approach to working with veterans of a variety of ages and abilities, both physical and mental, and aims to improve social reintegration, reduce mental health issues and help veterans get onto a positive pathway towards education, training or employment.
Activities offered include sporting and hobby sessions, photographic and writing projects, and work experience opportunities, as well as a weekly community meal that the ex-service personnel cook and provide free of charge to anyone who wants it.
Over 2,000 free meals have so far been served up through the Cook2Give project since the start of 2017.
Jon Clapham, social enterprise manager at Forward Assist, says: “The North East remains one of the biggest recruiting areas for the services, and we’ve worked with over 200 people from across the region who have returned home and needed some degree of assistance in settling into a different way of life.
“We try to provide tailored support for each person that comes to us, identifying how we can best support them in returning to civilian life, what skills they need to succeed and what activities we can offer that will bring maximum benefit.
“We’ve had lots of support from the local community for this project, and bringing people together each week for the community meal that we offer is a crucial part of the reintegration process that our clients are looking to go through.
“The feedback we get from the employers with whom our clients go on to find work is very positive, and the hard-working ‘can do’ approach that ex-service personnel bring with them is very much recognised and valued.
“Providing a space that all local people can use will also help to generate new revenues for the charity and therefore make our long-term finances that bit more sustainable, and we’re extremely grateful to The Banks Group for helping us complete a project that would otherwise not have been out of reach.”
Chris Kelsey, communications manager at the Banks Group, says: “The transition back into civilian life can be extremely testing and often overwhelming for some service personnel, but Forward Assist’s invaluable work is enabling many of them to come to terms with and conquer the challenges they’re facing.
“The charity has created a very welcoming space that will be valuable not only for its own work, but also to everyone living and working in the area, who will benefit from having access to a new community venue that they can enjoy.”
The Banks Community Fund provides grants for community groups and voluntary organisations in the vicinity of Banks Group projects.
Anyone interested in applying for funding should contact James Eaglesham at the Banks Community Fund on 0191 378 6342 to check if their group or project is eligible.