Collaboration, safe spaces and clearer pathways to support

July 4, 2023

There’s no doubt that the Veterans’ Places, Pathways & People Programme (VPPP) is delivering tangible and positive outcomes. It is bringing significant improvements to how veterans with mental health and wellbeing needs can be supported in a more co-ordinated and joined-up way.

June saw us deliver the latest in our series of programme focused webinars. Exploring peer support, safe spaces and essential collaboration at the heart of the Veterans’ Places, Pathways and People programme featured an inspiring mix of updates from across the programme. This included from the Strategic Partners working across the UK, the Portfolio Leads working in their respective regions or the Devolved Nations, and the Portfolio Partners.

First year success

We heard more about the surprising development of involvement with non-funded partners. A group of around 251 organisations and agencies which receive no direct funding from the VPPP programme but who have become involved in the regional networks to help support veterans and their families.

In all, at the end of the first year of the VPPP programme, there are around 339 organisations and agencies working together to deliver support services. These range from ‘banter and brew’ sessions to social prescribing activities, psychotherapy and everything in between.

The Trust’s Head of Impact, Tom Traynor covered some of the findings from the first year, including:

  • greater collaboration
  • improved co-ordination between organisations
  • better referral processes; and
  • an ethos of continual improvement.
Completing the circle of communication

Rachel Price, Cobseo Programme and Cluster Manager spoke about the role of the VPPP Strategic Leads. Their cluster structure enables them to identify common issues affecting each area and take them forward collectively.

She explained: “A clear outcome of this group was to have a complete circle of communication between the projects, the Portfolio Leads, the Strategic Leads and the sector oversight group. The Strategic Leads aim to work together across the VPPP programme and with the sector oversight group, to encourage the integration of existing clinical mental health provision with the broader non-clinical service for veterans.”

Stronger together

The four Strategic Leads: Combat Stress, SSAFA, ASDIC and Cobseo work together to reduce duplication and strengthen the delivery of the individual VPPP projects.

ASDIC is focusing on strengthening the drop-ins and the hubs, building on the success of those local groups who are connecting with veterans, who may not yet have engaged with some of those larger organisations. They continue to co-ordinate efforts and share resources through their online hub.

SSAFA have worked to strengthen their support to volunteers, both within their own organisation and through learning sessions. They continue to develop the skills, resilience and professionalisation of these services. They are working across the portfolios to ensure their regions are connected and they have access to the volunteer training and support they need.

For their part, Cobseo has developed and rolled out a Veteran Mental Health Awareness Standard across the sector. Its aim is to build co-operation, co-ordination and collaboration across the VPPP programme and wider Armed Forces charity sector. This Standard will enable veterans to have greater confidence and choices in accessing services that meet their needs.

A secondary focus was to support the projects to expand their communication skills. To ensure that they can tell their story to a wide range of diverse audiences from beneficiaries to statutory services and potential funders.

The VPPP projects will have access to further resources past the funding end date – part of the legacy of leaving an upskilled sector once funding has ended.

Creating a community of learning

We were joined at our webinar by Professor Catherine Kinane, Medical Director at Combat Stress. As the fourth Strategic Lead, Combat Stress have provided learning and development for organisations to improve, provide safer, better or faster care to veterans who needed it – particularly in organisations that are non-clinical, but also those that do provide clinical services, including statutory partners like the NHS.

The training has been well received so far. Professor Kinane said: “We have created a community of learning. There’s a co-creation and co production element to the learning content as well as a safe space for open conversations. People can learn from each other as well as from the person leading the session.”

No wrong front door

Michelle Woolman-Lane, Veteran Network Programme Manager, shared insights on behalf of Defence Medical Welfare Service, one of the 10 regional Portfolio Lead organisations.

She explained how regional knowledge and understanding is essential to the success of the VPPP programme, including understanding of the local veteran population.

They are working closely with local authorities and partners, providing a wide range of support that encompasses drop-in locations with a range of support activities, as well as employment and justice system support.

Their portfolio partners are actively engaging with multi-agency meetings in the local areas and across the region. This equates to 284 meetings where they’ve been able to promote and talk about the VPPP programme.

Michelle told us: “It’s not about signposting. This is about facilitating person-centered support. It’s about no wrong front door.”

The portfolio member perspective

We also heard from portfolio member Fighting With Pride, who is working across nine of the 10 regional portfolios.

Caroline Paige, Chief Executive of Fighting With Pride, explained: “From a portfolio member’s perspective, this has been a hugely positive experience and that is largely down to all of the partners that we’ve worked with, the collaboration that the programme has brought together. When we signed up to the portfolio programmes, we had three missions. One was to show veterans that things had changed and bring them back into the military family. The second was to connect them into partner organisations and into referral pathways. The third was to build the capacity of all the organisations within the VPPP programme, so they would have that warm welcome. They would understand the challenges that veterans faced in joining in those organisations.”

Caroline says that outreach was really important and gave them the visibility and capacity needed. They have delivered the Pride in Veterans Standard across the portfolios – a programme open to any organisation that provides veteran core services or support, that wishes to visibly demonstrate its commitment to providing inclusive and welcoming support to LGBT+ veterans, serving personnel and their families.

Fighting With Pride have also concentrated efforts in both Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Dougie Morgan, LGBT+ Community Support Worker, told us about the difficulty in reach veterans in that nation: “To be a veteran within the LGBT+ community in Northern Ireland is extremely difficult. I’m having to use all my skills and drills to connect.”

The VPPP programme has enabled this support where it would otherwise have been unavailable.

A word from a non-funded organisation

In Wales there are 12 portfolio projects as well as 34 non-funded partners including the Veterans’ Commissioner for Wales, Colonel James Phillips.

One of the non-funded partners they work with is Bulldog Veterans. They work with community members to support them with their health and wellbeing by providing an array of fitness services as well as educational programmes.

Ceri Stilwell, Bulldogs CEO told us: “We link up with lots of different partners and we find that if the partners do come to the centre, that the veterans are much more open to talking to them and getting the support they need.

In terms of the non-funded partnership network, the meetings are fantastic. The ability to bounce off each other, to talk about things that we’re having issues with or things that have been working well is just great.”

Stephen Sullivan, Joining Forces Development Officer, at Adferiad Recovery, Portfolio Lead for Wales, added: “The positivity that spreads throughout the community of Wales, because of the network, has been phenomenal.”

Creating a positive legacy

Finally, we heard form Armed Forces Community HQ, who spoke about sustainability of the work taking place under the VPPP programme and what the legacy of the funding might look like in the North West.

Lisa Murgatroyd, Head of Programme Delivery, told us: “We understood the strengths and weaknesses across the northwest region and wanted to build on that. We know that local delivery matters.”

The HQ commissioned several of their portfolio projects to deliver specialist toolkits and training resources that will be available for everybody.  Their focus is around reducing the number of times that a veteran must tell their story, by improving how information is shared.

The organisation has been conducting their own evaluation as part of their project. Collaboration, inclusivity, standard setting and services based on addressing local needs, are the dominant themes emerging so far.

Lisa added: “When we first came into this at the start of the programme there were a number of people who were just hesitant to work together. And so, we’ve had to work on breaking down those barriers and bringing people to the table. That informal peer support from organisations has been so important.”


In considering what happens next, Lisa explained how they look at what happens if people move on from the project – which can often be personality driven. She added: “We have done so much work in building these trusting relationships. Regional co-ordination is so important. We are already looking at our future funding model and every partner has already committed to say, regardless, we will continue to work together in some form, and we will commit our time to these meetings because they are so important.”

Laura Ingham, Managing Director, added: “I think we have to take responsibility, as portfolio holders, about how we continue this legacy. Sustainability is not a dirty word, and I think it’s really important for us to think about that at the start of everything that we do and think about what the future legacy is.”

Find out more

A recording of the VPPP webinar is available to watch now in our Knowledge Network. You can also access a VPPP programme resource, featuring more detail on the portfolio projects and the regions covered.

Want to know more about the VPPP programme? Head to our dedicated programme pages.