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Why charities should work together to support the walk - Written by Fergus Williams

Every year, thousands of servicemen and woman undergo military training building cohesive teams, spending days, weeks and years working, training and fighting together. However, when military personnel leave the Forces and transition into civilian life, they can sometimes feel isolated and experience feelings of loss.

Walking With The Wounded (WWTW) was established in 2010. We aim to support wounded ex-servicemen and women and their rehabilitation into ‘Civvy Street’, helping them to regain their independence.  In the UK, there are around 1,800 Armed Forces charities providing a wide range of services and activities to support the veteran community.[1] Arguably, we can achieve so much more for veterans if we, the charity sector worked together to build organisational relationships and knowledge-share. Prince Harry echoed this sentiment when he challenged the military charity sector to work closer together to support our veterans at the Mental Health Summit in 2017. We believe this should extend to both national and international arenas.

Walking With The Wounded started out as a charity known for its expeditions; but, as we approach our 10th anniversary, we have grown organically. We now offer targeted and collaborative support programmes for veterans, encompassing employment, housing, mental health and the criminal justice system. That said it is important to analyse where we started. In 2011, we led a team of able-bodied and wounded British veterans to the North Pole. They covered the greatest distance of any polar expedition that season, hauling their sledges, containing all of their equipment and supplies, over 200 miles. They were completely unsupported in one of the most hostile environment on Earth, dealing with polar bears, open water leads and temperatures of minus 60 degrees. In 2012, a team of British veterans from WWTW attempted Everest and in 2013, WWTW embarked on our first foray into international relations when Prince Harry launched our South Pole Expedition. We invited three teams from Britain, the Commonwealth (Australia and Canada) and the USA to join a high-profile race across the last 3 degrees to the Geographic South Pole. We have since led international teams across both Britain and more recently, the USA; underpinning our belief that collaboration both nationally and internationally has allowed our veteran teams to show what is possible when they train and rehabilitate together and more importantly, that these veterans are not defined by their injuries.

We wanted to evolve collaboration beyond our expeditions into our operational delivery. It is now one of our key values and it is at the heart of everything we do. We strive to partner across teams, the third sector and the ex-forces community to lead in the development and delivery of services provided to those who have served. Most veteran charities are working towards a common goal- to support veterans on their journey to independence. The way to make the greatest impact to veterans around the globe is to continue to build partnerships with organisations to enhance our joint learnings and international research.

One way that we are working towards this goal on an international scale is through initiatives such as The Veterans Trans-Atlantic Partnership (VTAP). VTAP aims is to identify service delivery partners in the USA with a focus on mental health, education, employment and homelessness. Through VTAP, we are developing a strategic partnership with key service delivery partners and organizations that share our values and goals. As an example, our Employment Protocol- Individual Placement and Support (IPS) was first developed in the USA and adopted and implemented by WWTW. This programme has secured the charity with two ‘Centres of Excellence’ and on the back of this, the NHS are now looking at rolling out the scheme on a national scale.  Last week, a team from WWTW travelled to Boston, USA to meet with Homebase, a US charity carrying out innovative work and research to support the mental health of veterans. They have an industry-leading, two-week intensive PTSD programme designed for veterans that is successful, and there are key learnings we can start to apply to our veteran programmes in the UK. 

Collaboration in the third sector is an absolute necessity. Charities cannot work effectively if they work independently; we need partners and experts to deliver expertise. The key is to be able to spot the right opportunities, have a clear focus and knowledge-share. Only then can we form a deeper understanding of how we can best support our cohort going forward.