Volunteers connecting military communities

The Armed Forces life can bring its challenges when a loved-one is deployed overseas, or a family must move to a new location.

Some people can find themselves feeling lonely or socially isolated, they may struggle to meet and connect with new people due to their confidence, work commitments or because they don’t live in Service Family Accommodation. 

SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity has developed a new volunteering role to help alleviate the loneliness of being part of a military family. The Community Connection Champion (CCC) identifies need within the community for activities and events which draw people together.

Hayley Kennedy, whose husband was posted to Bovington last year said: “Being sent away from your home and friends can be really isolating, especially if you don’t have children. Meeting people is a challenge, especially if you know you are only going to be around for a year or so.”

When she noticed that volunteers were needed to combat loneliness and isolation in her new garrison, Hayley identified with the task immediately and jumped at the chance to volunteer as a new Community Connection Champion to help other people who might be feeling like she was. 

Along with her SSAFA team, Hayley has been planning a range of activities to bring the community together.

Hayley said: “Becoming a CCC has not only brought me friendship, but has given me a way to become involved with lots of new and exciting activities. It’s really fulfilling to think that you have made a difference to someone’s day. Many military bases are in the middle of nowhere, and transport here in Bovington is very limited, so if you don’t drive you really need things organised locally – I’m happy to help with that.”

Thanks to funding from the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust, SSAFA, is recruiting volunteers all over the UK, and in its bases overseas. These people play a vital role in overcoming these challenges by creating welcoming and engaging group activities that bring the serving community together.  

Suzette Leach Community Connection Project Officer said: “You do not have to be a serving member of the military to be a CCC. Local people, near to military facilities, who want to make a difference to the serving communities’ quality of life are very welcome. Veterans or their families might also find this a great way to give a little back to the military community.”

CCCs can come from the serving community too. Who else is better placed to know the difficulty of living on camp and being far from family and friends?

Sapper Marco Turnbull, 20, has just applied to become a CCC: “I have spent many weekends on my own during training because you move around and are rarely with the same people for long enough to make many friends. I have had some quite dark times, especially when the training was hard and I was so far from home. of that hanging over everyone.

“So it’s really important to me to help other people who might feel alone. In so many ways I am lucky – I’m from a military family, so I understand that you are going to get cold, wet and shouted at during training sometimes. I know what homesickness feels like, and that it will pass, because I had to go to boarding school. The key is not to lock yourself in your room. Connect with people, have some fun and the blues melt away. As a CCC hopefully I can help bring fun into some people’s lives when they are feeling down.”

Interested in volunteering? 
An online training webinar has been developed to train the Community Connection Champions, so training can happen wherever you are. The course focuses on understanding more about loneliness and social isolation, the impact it can have on an individual’s life and how groups and events can make a difference. Once trained, volunteers are supported by the Community Connection Project Officer and by their local branch.

If you would like to become a Community Connection Champion and support those feeling socially isolated and lonely within the local serving community.  

Find out more by contacting suzette.leach@ssafa.org.uk or visiting ssafa.org.uk/community-connection-champion.

Volunteering spotlight: Sodexo
Sodexo was an early signatory of the Armed Forces Covenant, and holds a Gold Employer Recognition Award, reflecting its commitment to the UK Armed Forces and veteran’s community. Enabling its employees to volunteer for SSAFA is an extension of this commitment and benefits the volunteers and SSAFA beneficiaries alike, playing a key part in Sodexo’s Social Impact Pledge.

Sodexo is committed to actively supporting local and national charity networks through employee mentoring, volunteering and fundraising activities; SSAFA is delighted to be one of Sodexo’s Social Impact Partners, making a tangible difference in people’s lives. 

Recently SSAFA partnered with Sodexo for a volunteering opportunity to spruce up the gardens of SSAFA’s Stepping Stone Home, a refuge for women and children escaping domestic violence.

The team of 11 Sodexo staff worked hard and enjoyed their volunteering day.

Colin Maskelyne, Catering, Retail and Leisure Manager, Larkhill, said: “Some people need support, and at Sodexo, we are fortunate to be able to take up to three day paid volunteering each year. It’s fantastic to be able to give back to the community and volunteering for SSAFA is particularly meaningful for me as I am ex-Forces, as are many of my colleagues”

Catherine Davison, SSAFA’s Corporate Account Manager, Commercial and Corporate Partnerships said: “We had such a great day! We had a lot of fun, and really made a difference to the surroundings of the families who use the facility. 

“It means such a lot to our charity’s beneficiaries to know that individuals and business not only are willing to put their hands in their pockets, but also to give their time towards making their lives a little bit better. Thank you Team Sodexo!”

Community Connection Champions around the UK
Scotland, RAF Lossiemouth: Volunteer CCC Stephen started a regular walking group, which is enabling people to connect, make friends and improve their mental health through exercise and fresh air. 

Oxfordshire, RAF Brize Norton: Award winning CCC, Sarah, has organised social events on camp such as a Battle of the Bands night, and has also set up regular art sessions. 

Shropshire, RAF Shawbury: Volunteer Sue, and two other Community Connection Champions, are running a book club in conjunction with charity, Reading Force and they have also supported a comedy night and monthly quiz.

Dorset, Bovington Camp: Hayley and her team of CCC’s have organised spouses’ hikes, netball coaching and a quiz night is starting up after the summer holiday, not to mention that the team provide the cakes for the Garrison’s monthly coffee morning.

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