Online mentoring to support ex-service men and women in Scotland

Ali Smith Ali Smith

It’s lockdown and week seven working from home, but Spring is here and I’m enjoying the warm sun coming through the window. I’ve been thinking about the support we provide to veterans and how, until recently, our Shoulder to Shoulder mentors met with the veterans they support out of the home, usually a café or another safe public space. This is a really beneficial way for mentors to help veterans stay connected, reduce loneliness and isolation, whilst supporting them with daily focus and routine.

That’s all great, but what does a veteran do if they want support and can’t get out of the house if they have poor mobility, mental health issues or unforeseen lockdowns? Last year, new funding from Forces in Mind Trust gave us this opportunity to adapt and develop our project through the delivery of video support, a medium that is now a lifeline for some veterans in these challenging times.

I’m busy with video calls today, chatting with veterans who would like to be matched with a mentor who can help them stay connected, be it family, friends or support agencies. However goals change and certainly throughout the lockdown, we are now also ensuring that veterans have enough food, are able to access their finances, are supported with health and fitness or can take part in online courses.

Feedback from our external evaluator – The Lines Between – has gathered some of the highlights from mentor and mentee conversations to demonstrate how beneficial this unique programme can be to those involved.

Mentees have loved using video conferencing to connect with their mentors. Scott, who has been part of the programme since November 2019, reflects on how being mentored online is more accessible than past experiences.

“When I went out for counselling appointments, I used to build myself up, get really tense and decide ‘I’m not doing this’. I’d literally get to where I was going and cancel. Whereas this, it’s simpler, it’s made me more relaxed and it’s made my life a bit better. I can speak to people that I wouldn’t normally speak to.”

Frank, a veteran in his 80s, was willing to try this new way of interacting with a mentor, and his openness paid off.

“I hadn’t used a tablet before, but once you get the hang of it we link up no problem now. I found it really easy to use after we’d got it set up.

It’s a wonderful thing, to be able to get that close with someone on the video link, without leaving your armchair. That’s the best thing about it, it’s like you are sitting in a room with them. I really appreciate the technology, and I like it. Any time I’ve used it I get all psyched up to talk about things that are important. I think it’s the same as meeting in real life; we would talk about the same things, openly and honestly.

I would say to anyone who’s hesitant, think about the ultimate value of making that connection with the other person. Try and share it openly, with confidence, and trust the technology; just imagine they were talking to someone face to face.”

Being at home let Frank show his mentor his surroundings, which are important for his wellbeing. His location also means he wouldn’t be able to access a service like this without travelling, or having his mentor travel to him.

“I picked up the tablet and showed her the surroundings around my house, so she could see where I was. But also to say, this is where I live, it’s about my landscape and my surroundings, so there is more depth to it. The day I took the tablet to my window, I showed her a sheep pen which is close to my house, and there must have been about 1,000 sheep in it, and we joked about that. I’m quite out of the way as well so doing this online adds an extra benefit for me; I wouldn’t be able to meet with someone unless they came to me.”

Have a look at this video highlighting Laura’s experience of being a TimeBank mentor to Scott:

If you are a veteran or know of someone who might benefit from support of an online mentor, please email Ali on [email protected] or call on 07437 437867.

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