Meet Michelle - Southend and Rochford Divisional Secretary and founder of the Veterans Club
Michelle talks about her experiences as a Divisional Secretary, and what setting up the Veterans Club has meant for the men and women in Southend
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‘I joined SSAFA late in 2014 and did my caseworker course early the following year. My instructor on the course, Christine Ruddy, was fantastic, and I came away believing I could achieve anything for my veterans. Following that turning point, I became Divisional secretary in May 2015 and started the journey I am on now, although I remain an active caseworker for two reasons; one so that I can lead by example and two so that I can remain in touch with the veterans and their needs.
My job is Divisional Secretary means I have to show people within the first couple of minutes chatting that they can trust us and that we really are here to help them. For a lot of the people who get in contact it takes a lot of courage to call in the first place so we have to put them at their ease as soon as possible. I don't get involved in the case I leave that to the caseworker but I do keep an eye on the case from a distance and I am here to support my case workers 24/7.
As Div Sec I also go and meet with new people who may be able to work with SSAFA to make our veterans lives easier, to date I have engaged with community, hospital and council social workers within the Southend area, next year my aim is to go further afield and work with the county social workers who cover my area. I work with my local council and raise awareness of the military covenant and we work together to make veterans lives easier.
I set up Veterans Club because the requests for visitors to go to a veteran’s home was escalating so I thought we should invite them to visit us. Thursday is the best day of the week, I get hugs and kisses when they all arrive and when they go home - who wouldn't want to do my job?! We sit and chat and all the volunteers do the green cross code, stop, look and listen to our veterans, this allows us to notice changes and then act on what we see.
We work with the social workers and older peoples advocates who we can refer to if we see an issue, this has stopped people becoming poorly and ending up in hospital, it has helped families with a veteran with dementia - it meant we could get the family much needed support. Talking to one client we found out he had terminal cancer and that he couldn't get in his bath, we put a case together and after getting his regiment to pay for an OT report he got a much needed scooter but also the OT got the council to put in a wet room, without the veterans club this would never have happened.
When I look at my veterans on a Thursday all smiling I know that we have made a difference, on Thursdays my veterans have a reason to get dressed properly, shirt and tie, we have taken away the isolation they feel a lot of the time due to not being able to get out and for a few hours they are the most important people in the world to us.
Our latest addition to the veterans club is days out for some it’s the only time they will leave Southend this year; we are doing our all to give our veterans their independence back.
When you join SSAFA no matter the role you can do as much or as little as you wish, but the one thing I tell all my volunteers is that this is not a game, when you go to a veterans home you are making a commitment to another human being, the greatest gift we can give anyone is our time, its a precious gift.
My favourite thing about volunteering for SSAFA is the fact that when someone contacts us they are no longer alone, they don't have to worry alone any more we are here to shoulder the problem. We are able to turn tears into laughter mostly with simple solutions. Being part of SSAFA gives me the sense of belonging again, I missed the service life and the community spirit being part of SSAFA I have that back.
I know what it’s like to have no one to turn to and I don't want anyone to feel like they are drowning. I promised I would never turn my back on anyone and that's why I do what I do.