When I travel across the country, it is fascinating to meet the poppy-wearing public and to hear why they choose to wear the iconic symbol of remembrance. For many, the poppy represents their sense of pride in a friend or family member – past or present – that has served our country. For others with no tangible military connection, they are just proud of our Armed Forces and the sacrifices the men and women therein continue to make to this day.
And then there are those who make a conscious decision to not wear a poppy; a matter of personal choice which should be respected. So many of the freedoms that we take for granted were hard-won by the generations that went before us, and it is that freedom to wear or not to wear that makes us the diverse and lucky society that we are today.
I wear a poppy to show my respect for those I served alongside, as well as every man and woman that has served. One thing I am acutely aware of is that many people are happy to donate to Poppyscotland, but perhaps do not know quite enough about what we do as a charity to help and support ex-Service personnel all over the country.
The annual Scottish Poppy Appeal is the lifeblood of our charity, along with the plethora of other events and fundraising occasions throughout the year that all help to bring in the millions of pounds we spend each year on supporting the Armed Forces community.
While the UK’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan ended almost five years ago – and there has been no conflict involving British Forces on that sort of scale since – it would be wrong to conclude that the apparent lack of a prolonged high-intensity conflict somehow lead to a reduction in the need for former Service personnel to approach charities such as Poppyscotland for help. Indeed, the opposite is the case as a result of increased understanding and complexity, and, therefore, we are seeing a sharp rise in demand for our services.
Our Welfare team speak to me every day about veterans who are in contact looking for advice and support having suffered in silence for years. Yes, years. Pride is a big thing for Service personnel, and there is often the feeling that a cry for help is a show of weakness. We continue to get the message out there that when in Service, those in the military have comrades all around them in whom they can literally call for backup. We want our veterans to know that post-Service, Poppyscotland is your backup.
My colleagues also point out that the issues veterans are presenting with are becoming ever-more complex. For example, years ago, little was known about the causes and effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is reassuring that it is something we have a better grasp of now, but with that knowledge comes the more complex – and expensive – demand on our resources.
To tackle this growing demand head-on, Poppyscotland took the decision last year to create a new Welfare Support Service team, comprising two Independent Living Advisers and four Welfare Support Officers.
The new team went ‘on the road’ earlier this year and are already working tirelessly to meet the needs of the Armed Forces community in all four corners of the country.
When we take the time to speak to an individual, we increasingly find that it’s seldom the case of them struggling with a single issue. Indeed, research has shown that a veteran who eventually seeks help is presenting with an average of five issues. These can include problems with health, housing, education, employment, benefits, debt and mobility.
In order to make our resources go further, collaborative working has become a fundamental part of what we do. We work with myriad other charities and organisations in order to get people to the best person or place possible to receive help. For example, the Armed Services Advice Project – or ‘ASAP’ for short – is a service which sees Poppyscotland working in partnership with the Scottish Association of Citizens Advice Bureau.
The service allows trained advisers to offer specialist guidance on a wide range of issues including benefits, debt, housing and employment, and it operates in 11 regions of the country – from Aberdeen to Ayrshire. To date, more than 15,000 members of the Armed Forces community have been helped and it is estimated that for every £1 of funding received, there is a client financial gain of £4.05. It is that kind of partnership and drive to make every penny go further that we hope will give the public confidence each time they choose to put a pound in a poppy tin.
I want to end by reiterating the point that just because you have not witnessed scenes of conflict featuring our troops on the Six O’clock News in recent years, there are still significant numbers of veterans in need of life-changing advice and support. And I would like to take this opportunity to encourage people to recognise the unseen service and sacrifice of our Armed Forces, past and present. We stand behind them. Always. And I would like to thank all of you who support the Poppyscotland cause.