Helping vets to rejoin the mainstream

Veterans on the steps of the Coop Building as Councillors Hunt and McLoughlin are 'leaving the building'
Veterans on the steps of the Coop Building as Councillors Hunt and McLoughlin are 'leaving the building'

Councillors look set to give financial support to Wigan ex-armed forces personnel who have been trying to conquer particular demons.

Wigan Central representatives Couns Michael McLoughlin and Lawrence Hunt went on a fact-finding mission to the Coops building in Dorning Street to meet members of what is called the Veterans’ Specific Group.

The “specific” in question is alcohol (and sometimes also drugs) and how a drinking culture in the forces has left the members with particular problems as far as gaining alternative employment and reintegrating into mainstream society is concerned.

As one vet remarked to the visitors: “We were trained to be good soldiers but not to be good civilians.”

Coun McLoughlin said: “An armed forces’ way of life is a very particular way of life. For many veterans their return to civilian life represents a huge dislocation. The services’ discipline has disappeared overnight. It takes time to adjust. Even starting to live with their spouses 24/7 is, for many, hard to cope with. Far too many relationships founder too.

“Veterans have been inured to living and working in a drinking culture. They are used to there having been working times and drinking times.

“Once back in civvy street however, veterans are free to drink whenever they like to. Part of the problem is, without the discipline that they have long been accustomed to, many start to spend far too much time drinking and thus develop dependency problems.”

This in turn makes it difficult to find or hold down a job.

The group has been founded for those veterans who have issues with drugs or alcohol. They have been formed under the auspices of Wigan Council’s “The Deal”. Eventually they would like their Right Turn Project to become self-sufficient.

One aim is to help the members back to work, although this won’t always happen straight away.

The group claims only to have one rule: sobriety. Members are not allowed in, should they turn up drunk. When a member fails to turn up for a group meeting, inquiries start. Usually, it’s a phone call first. If necessary, it can be a walk round to the member’s address and a knock-up. If a member “falls off the wagon”, it will not be easily concealed. The group exists to create a safe environment for each other.

Recent activities have included parading in a veterans’ military march against terrorism; attending a residential three day IT course at Barnsley College; visiting Southport Royal British Legion Club; and, participating in a gardening project for which the “pay” was the T-shirts and hoodies group members are wearing in the picture.

Planned activities include climbing the Old Man of Coniston and Ben Nevis.

The two councillors are looking to help the group by funding travel expenses (members had had to fork out for the Barnsley trip) from their Brighter Borough Fund allocation, but they are also considering backing them further.

Coun McLoughlin said: “Frankly, the more effective this group proves itself to be, the lower will be the drain its members exert on the public purse.

“There will be lower demands made on local government, the NHS and the benefits system. Modest investments will pay significantly larger dividends.

“We consider supporting this group to be the proverbial ‘no brainer’.”