Nottingham Forest Forces
Nottingham Forest Forces
Nottingham Forest Community Trust received a Local Grants award of £20,000 in 2018 to facilitate a project that provided support to older veterans who were socially isolated and lonely. Calum Osborne, COO of the Community Trust said the organisation decided that they wanted to offer something “different” to veterans, and that the civilian community within the football club fan base wanted to “give something back” to veterans and their families.
The Community Trust therefore wanted to offer an “uplifting feel-good programme” to veterans, but it was also very important for it to be designed and led by the veterans themselves, as they would know what they wanted or needed. The idea was to place something in front of local people, and from that work with them to develop the content of the programme.
The Forest Forces programme began with an intense period of research, and together with the local Nottinghamshire Covenant Partnership, the Community Trust launched a series of open evenings, questionnaires and surveys to find out from the veteran community what sort of support would benefit them the most. Nottingham Forest FC has a huge veteran affinity, and from its fan base, family and friends were able to refer veterans on to the project and get them involved.
Following this consultation, the overwhelming agreement was that veterans simply wanted to “get together and be social”. However, the Community Trust also wanted to provide support where it was required, so they also sought assistance from Armed Forces charities such as SSAFA, the ABF, Forces in the Community, FAFA, RBL, DMWS, Career Transition Partnership and also the local Age UK branch. This partnership with other organisations meant that the project was able to provide wrap-around support and assistance or was able to signpost veterans on to other organisations if this was required.
A monthly social group was organised, and from that came other activities such as walking football, play on the pitch, matchday experiences and other commemorative events. As Calum explained, the Forest Forces project was always going to be “all about the veterans” and the Community Trust’s role was to “do the legwork and facilitate the services they required.” Continuous feedback was sought from the veterans as the project continued, and they refined their services and activities accordingly.
Since March, due to Covid-19 lockdown restrictions the Community Trust has had to move its social events online, however they are still keen to keep the momentum going due to the success of the project. Instead of the monthly social events, the project organised weekly phone calls, Zoom bingo and quiz sessions, plus face to face meetings outside where social distancing restrictions allowed this to take place.
The challenge for the organisers, says Calum, has been keeping older veterans engaged with the project. Unfortunately, some of them do not have the access to IT or the computer knowledge to be able to participate in online events. Because of this, a priority for the project was meeting with older beneficiaries in a face to face setting as soon as they were able to keep them engaged and help to counteract the loneliness and isolation that the lockdown brought to many.
As Calum explained, “We have had regular 1:1 meetings with some veterans, we have even spoken to people through their garden gates. This has certainly not stopped us.”
Although the initial project funded by the Trust has come to an end, the Nottingham Forest Community Trust hopes to keep the initiative going due to its success, either via other funding or self-funded means. The Community Trust are delighted that the Forest Forces project engaged with 165 veterans over a period of 12 months, which vastly exceeded their initial estimate of 60, showing its popularity and need within the veteran community it serves.