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Friday 12 December 2014

Council’s £5,000 boost helps get ex-services veterans back on track


Cheshire East Council has given a cash boost to a charity which helps struggling ex-service personnel get their lives back on track.

Councillor David Brown, Deputy Leader of the Council, recently visited LOL Farm in Bosley, which is home to the LOL (Listening Out Loud) Foundation – and presented the organisation with a grant cheque for £5,000 to support the charity’s work.

The money will be used to help fund a new support unit which aims to help veterans overcome mental health problems and get back into work and secure, independent living.

Cllr Brown said: “For me, this all started off back in 2011, with the Mercian Regiment homecoming parade in Congleton. As Town Mayor at the time, I had the honour of presenting the regiment with the freedom of the Borough and back then I was aware that LOL founder Jill Dolman was already working with others on an appeal, which sent thousands of Jiffy bags packed with treats out to soldiers based in Afghanistan.

“She then went on to gain more support from Cheshire East, getting access to some properties to house veterans and now, thanks to local benefactors, on to this magnificent building at LOL Farm.

“The charity has great plans for the future, to set up training and help get people back in to civilian society when they return, having served their country and looked after us all.”

LOL chair of trustees Peter Aston said: “Even though veterans are well trained whilst in the forces, they often leave without with credentials that mean anything in Civvy Street – so we’re going to ensure that our training facilities are fully accredited, enabling us to offer those all-important paper qualifications and get the guys back into the world of work.

“The LOL Foundation has been offering support to homeless veterans for just more than two years now. We treat every person as an individual and we help to improve their health and wellbeing – starting by giving them safe and secure accommodation.

“As soon as they feel ready and able, we get them into volunteering locally with community groups, churches and so on. Then, as their skills and confidence increase, we start looking for return-to-work training and working with local businesses – the whole intention being to transition them from homelessness and despair, back into secure, independent living.”

Mr Aston added: “Cheshire East Council has been very helpful to us right from the beginning. One of the things they’ve already done for us is to give us access to two houses, which are part of the Carter House complex, in Congleton.

“We now have plans approved to turn these two terraced houses into accommodation with a total of nine beds, including a mental health unit, with our own mental health pathway manager, key workers, support therapists and counsellors.

“An organisation called ‘Crash’, which is the construction industry’s own charitable arm, is organising the refurbishment of the properties for us and the money that Cheshire East have given us now will support the development of a bid for something called public health transformation funding, which we hope will provide the money to pay the first year’s wages and overheads for this new unit.

“Everybody who comes to LOL Farm finds this an extraordinary space. Its conference area has already been used by a number of organisations, such as the chamber of commerce, and Cheshire East. The idea is that we will be able to use the space in collaboration with other organisations too, such as Help For Heroes, and another organisation for veterans called the Warrior Programme.

“We also have two large warehouse spaces here on site and the plan is to turn those in to training facilities – one for motor vehicle training and the other for construction skills training, such as plastering and electrics.

“We will also use our fields to train horticultural skills by extending the existing polytunnels to create a teaching space. All our training will be to fully accredited standards and will be geared towards maximising employment opportunities for the people we work with.”

Outreach volunteer leader and former veteran Josh Bithell said: “In order to help people, we’ve got to make contact with them first – so I’m enjoying giving something back by working in a team of five volunteers and actively going out to find those people who need our help. It can range from running a soup kitchen to offering warm clothing and sleeping bags to homeless people.”

LOL founder Jill Dolman said: “One of the real difficulties with supporting people with mental health issues is that these are often hidden – and this is particularly true with ex-service personnel. Our ambition is to reach out to those veterans, and make a permanent improvement to their life chances. We are very grateful to Cheshire East Council for this £5,000 grant to help us do just that.”

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