A helping hand

Find out how Finchale Training College has been supporting Veterans since 1943.

Finchale Training College has a long history of supporting veterans and with the help of the Legion's External Grants Scheme since 2011, they provide advice, training and information to assist ex-Service personnel in moving from the Armed Forces to new occupations.

The training college was started in 1943, when a hotel was transformed into a specialist centre to provide support for injured ex-Servicemen returning home after the Second World War. Now it helps people like Lewis Manson, enrolled on a warehouse and distribution course in the hope it will land him a job at one of the many warehouse companies near his home.

Attending since July 2014, Lewis was referred from Monkwearmouth Hospital where he was receiving treatment for depression. "It's brilliant. It's a bit daunting leaving the Army and having to handle everything yourself, but this service brings stability back into your life."

Fellow ex-soldier Ezekiel King, 22, has been doing an accountancy course at Finchale since November. "I'm really enjoying it", he says. "I have dyspraxia so the team is helping me with that by letting me do the work in my own time. There's no rush to do anything. I can focus on what I want.

"It's really good because it looks at your weaknesses and allows you to flourish by giving you the support you need."

Of the 160 veterans that Finchale has welcomed since April last year, 31 have moved into full-time employment, 60 are in training, 50 are going through the initial stages of the programme – and only 19 have disengaged.

Mel Pears, Finchale's Head of Armed Forces Engagement, explains: "The veterans' service is bespoke to each veteran. Anybody can come in at any stage of that process because not everybody needs social care. Some will take the welfare support for a while and drop out, then they'll come back and progress steadily. Others, within three or four weeks, we've got them a job."

The range of issues the team deals with is vast and they do their best to support each veteran who walks through the door, however challenging they may be.

"We cannot cure and address all the problems at Finchale and we don't even pretend to", says Mel. "But what we have is immediate support with the occupational therapist, the community psychiatric nurse, wellbeing counselling and nurses. We can refer them to the NHS or their local doctor, and we occasionally accompany them there because some will not go on their own."

Mel says the team gets "immensely excited and proud" when the veterans, some of whom were at their lowest ebb when they arrived at Finchale, move into training or employment.

"We're all proud that someone has come through the door, maybe disengaged a few times, but eventually come back and got a job. We get some nice letters back saying thank you very much.

"The first year, 2011, was in the midst of the Afghanistan conflict, so the caseload was 85. As of December 2014, it's 160, so you can see the difference the funding has made. We've doubled the number of people using the service and we haven’t finished this year, we still have until April to go", adds Mel.

"If the Legion's support wasn't there, we'd have the best part of 160 ex-soldiers totally dependent on the state. And if it were to be removed it would be a travesty. Without the Legion's help, without that source of funding to rely on, and the services and agencies the Legion run, I dread to think who would pick up the baton."

Find out more about the Legion's External Grants service.

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