An introduction to Veterans Community Network (VCN), one of VOS’s partners within the Veterans’ Places, Pathways and People programme
Veterans Outreach Support is proud to be the grant holder for the South-East region Portfolio of the Veterans’ Places, Pathways and People programme, working with our partners to provide activities, services and support to local veterans. To showcase the excellent support and mental health resources for veterans that these organisations offer, we’re giving you a deeper insight into what they do and shining a spotlight on the hardworking people who run them. Today we’re going to introduce you to Veterans Community Network, also known as VCN, and its founder member, Dr Gill Le Page.
What is Veterans Community Network?
Veterans Community Network is a relatively new charity that offers one-to-one support to veterans, reservists and military families through a network of trained Veteran Peer Mentors, Partnership working and a monthly drop-in Hub. The support from the charity helps veterans, reservists and their families to access treatment and support services that help them to cope, adjust and manage difficulties with things such as mental health, housing, benefits and social isolation.
VCN recognises that not all Armed Forces have a smooth and easy transition to civilian life, with many of them missing certain aspects of military life, such as the close friendships they formed. They may struggle to adapt and therefore experience difficulties with things like accommodation, finding a new career, mental health, loneliness, drugs or alcohol and interpersonal relationships. Often, they will feel like nobody outside of the military will understand their struggles and emotions, which makes it difficult to reach out for help, which further intensifies their sense of loneliness and isolation.
“The help I’ve received from VCN has been invaluable, despite not being fully aware that I needed help.”
There is, of course, a wide range of support available for veterans, but it can be overwhelming trying to find, access and engage with the most suitable form of support or treatment. Veterans Community Network understands all this, and so they don’t just signpost people to other organisations, they listen carefully in order to guide veterans into the right service, and they stay with them throughout their journey using their network of trained veteran peer mentors. This ensures that veterans are not alone in their recovery. VCN also supports reservists who can experience similar difficulties, and family members who may also struggle with the impact of their loved one’s time in the military and their transition out of it. As well as their trained veteran peer mentors, all of VCN’s team members have close connections to the Armed Forces, meaning they truly fulfil the motto: “veterans supporting veterans”.
“I thoroughly recommend any ex servicemen going through a rough patch and need a little guidance and a friend to help you get back on the right road again, please do not hesitate in contacting the Veterans Community Network, we all need a wee lift now and again and should not see it as a weakness to ask for help.”
What does Veterans Community Network do?
The main aim of Veterans Community Network is to train veterans as Peer Mentors and then connect them with other local veterans to offer their support. The charity works across Bedford and Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Milton Keynes and Northamptonshire, and has developed personal relationships with all its partners. VCN offers a monthly drop-in Hub in Bedford, where they are able to immediately connect someone looking for support with a professional who is able to help with their specific issues. They also run a Tri-Service Hub which is held on the first Thursday of each month at the West Ashland Blue Light Fire Station in Milton Keynes. This hub is run in partnership with Op Courage and Bucks Fire, and the next one will be a special event with partnership working with Billy MacLeod from Veterans in Action who will be coming up to Milton Keynes.
In addition to these hubs, VCN holds a ‘Virtual Tea & Banter Group’ which meets via Zoom three times a month. This informal group is a chance for veterans to interact and catch up with each other, and there are also talks on a range of topics and activities such as quizzes and games.
Veterans Community Network has recently begun a new partnership with ECKSON Sanctuary Veterans Hub in Bedford, which is available to all their beneficiaries. This Hub provides various activities including caring for animals, painting and building projects, gardening, shooting, social engagement and crafts.
Why was Veterans Community Network founded?
For Veterans Community Network’s founder member, Dr Gill Le Page, it was firsthand experience of a family member struggling with service-related PTSD and alcoholism that first inspired the idea for the organisation. Having acknowledged their difficulties, the family member went into treatment that was sadly inaccessible for them and found that they were not listened to or understood, which further exacerbated the guilt and shame they already felt. In previous work, Gill had learned about the value of peer mentor support, whereby individuals with lived experience help with getting people into treatment and supporting them to stay in treatment, as well as providing other forms of support. This knowledge and her personal experience gave Gill the idea for training veterans as peer mentors in order to provide veterans in need with invaluable support.
In November 2019, the organisation began as a Community Group supported by a steering group of veterans, reservists and family members. A year later, in November 2020, Veterans Community Network became a registered charity across Milton Keynes, Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire. Since then, the charity has only grown and continues to provide its peer mentor support services to more and more people in need.
“I have been involved with the VCN ever since its inception and cannot speak highly enough about the fantastic work they are doing for veterans’ in the community.”
(Written by Saskia Egeland-Jensen)
Veterans Outreach Support is proud to work in partnership with Veterans Community Network to provide welfare and wellbeing support to veterans, serving members of the British Armed Forces and the Merchant Navy and their families.
VOS is here to support veterans from the UK Armed Forces service, the Merchant Navy, and their partners. If you know a veteran (from any time of service), please pass our details along. If you’re a veteran or partner and are thinking about getting in touch, we would love to hear from you. Call us on 02392 731 767, visit one of our drop-ins, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.