Scotland’s Veterans Commissioner, Charlie Wallace, visited the Scottish War Blinded Hawkhead Centre in Paisley to meet with veterans who talked to him about their experiences of loneliness…

They discussed with the Commissioner the impact of social isolation which research has shown affects many veterans, and about how veterans’ organisations play a vital role in tackling the problem.

A survey by Scottish War Blinded revealed that veterans with sight loss are at particular risk of loneliness. 253 members of Scottish War Blinded took part in the charity’s research of whom 94% said they’d had some of experience of loneliness, with health problems and problems accessing transport being the key factors. Other veterans’ organisations have identified problems of loneliness in the wider veterans community.

The Unforgotten Forces Consortium has been established as a partnership between 15 leading organisations delivering a range of new services in areas including advice, access to healthcare, and tackling social isolation. Partners in the consortium are now urging the Scottish Government to take action on the issue through its new national strategy on loneliness, and are themselves extending services to tackle isolation among veterans.

Speaking after the event, Scottish Veterans Commissioner Charlie Wallace said: “The work of the Hawkhead centre and the support and activities it offers to our veterans with sight loss is, in my opinion, of huge value in helping alleviate feelings of social isolation and loneliness. I was delighted to be invited to view the centre and to learn more about its approach and the impact it is having. In particular, meeting and hearing directly from some of the veterans benefitting from this most welcome facility.”

Mark O’Donnell, Chief Executive of Royal Blind and Scottish War Blinded said: “We were delighted to welcome the Commissioner to the Hawkhead Centre, which we opened last year so we could extend our support to veterans with sight loss, including through social activities which help tackle isolation. Too many of our members have had devastating personal experiences, and too often have been unaware of the support which they are entitled to access. We want to work collaboratively to change this.”

Poppyscotland lead the Unforgotten Forces consortium and their Head of Welfare Services, Gary Gray, said: “Social Isolation and loneliness affects 15 per cent of the Scottish ex-Service community and disproportionately impacts on older veterans. We welcome the recent publication of the Scottish Government’s new strategy to tackle this, which recognises the specific challenges faced by those in the Armed Forces community.

“Unforgotten Forces means that Irrespective of which organisation is first approached, older veterans can be assisted, supported and, where appropriate, signposted to the service that is most appropriate to their needs. Each organisation has effectively become a door to the whole partnership.”