Business community is urged to back veterans

THE scars of war can linger long after the guns have fallen silent.

A century ago, thousands of men marched away to a conflict that left an indelible impression on all who experienced it.

Today, many former service personnel need extra help when they return to civilian life, because they’re still traumatised by what they saw on the front line.

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As we mark the Centenary of the First World War, a housing association that supports homeless veterans is calling on Yorkshire businesses to support a scheme that helps former soldiers find work. Many of them would make ideal workers in a small enterprise. Riverside, which provides affordable social housing, is leading the campaign to ensure ex-servicemen and women are given equal opportunities as they attempt to find jobs.

Riverside’s services include a national network of support for homeless veterans. It already has a training and enterprise centre near Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire and a national housing advice line for ex-services personnel.

Riverside’s chief executive Carol Matthews and Colonel Stephen Padgett, the Commander at Catterick Garrison, have signed the Armed Forces Corporate Covenant, as a sign of their determination to make a difference. Riverside employs veterans as support staff, specialist support workers, managers and bakers. It provides employment and training for veterans, some of whom are struggling with psychological or physical traumas.

Ms Matthews said: “Signing the covenant reinforces our commitment to helping veterans back into civilian life. We’ve helped thousands of veterans in the past few years, and 90 per cent of them go on to independent living. They are the best trained men and women in the world, and are an incredibly valuable asset to the business world at large.”

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The price of serving your country can be paid many years later, by servicemen who are haunted by their memories and find it had to adjust to life on civvy street. Recent research carried out by the national agency, Homeless Link, suggests that the proportion of ex-servicemen among the UK’s homeless population could be as high as six per cent.

The covenant includes a commitment from Riverside to offer apprenticeships to veterans, and training and employment within its own company. The organisation runs SPACES - Single Persons Accommodation Centre for the ex-Services - which provides an accommodation placement service for single personnel who have been discharged from all three services. So far, it has helped 12,000 veterans into housing.

Ms Matthews added: “There’s no doubt there is still a stigma about veterans if they have a hole in their CV, or have become homeless. We hope our commitment in this centenary year will encourage others in the business community to also sign up to the covenant.”

Those who have been helped by Riverside include Edward Guerin who is based in Catterick.

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He was in the Royal Artillery for 24 years and served in the first Gulf War, Bosnia, and Northern Ireland. He’s now employed as housing advice worker by Riverside, and he hopes Yorkshire’s

small businesses will look sympathetically on applications from former service personnel.

He added: “I wanted to make a difference really; you have to have a fair degree of compassion and empathy. Having a Forces background helps me identify with the veterans and they identify with me, it gives them that confidence to talk.

“When it comes to employment I believe everyone, regardless of their background, - if they’re suitable for a role - should be looked at fairly. I wouldn’t be surprised if prejudice does exist, there’s a perception soldiers are rough and ready. If they go for a job and tick all the right boxes, it shouldn’t matter if they’ve been in the Forces. Generally, an ex-soldier has a lot to bring to the civilian workforce. Veterans can offer reliability, discipline, communication skills, commitment, and loyalty – all good old fashioned values.”

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He said that those who have gaps in their CV are trained to get back into the workforce. after a spell in one of Riverside’s sheltered housing schemes

He added: “They’ve gone through hard times, but went to get support to move on and make a difference.”

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