Agenda item

Presentation on First Light Trust

To receive a presentation by Gillian Taylor, a Founding Trustee of First Light Trust and Occupational Therapist BSc(Hons). (First Light Trust – A grass roots charity enabling ex-Service personnel and their families to re-establish their lives.)


The Committee received a presentation from Gillian Taylor, a Founding Trustee of First Light Trust and Occupational Therapist BSc(Hons).  First Light Trust (the Trust) is a grass roots charity enabling ex-Service personnel and their families to re-establish their lives. 

Gillian Taylor advised the meeting of her background which involved working for two years with Combat Stress who work with ex-service personnel. She is also an occupational therapist, fitness instructor and has worked in agriculture. Her remit at Combat Stress was to assist veterans to connect with the Community after discharge and discovered that, after veterans had gone through their treatment, there was nothing in the community to help them rebuild their lives.

Why establish a Trust in Scarborough?  There is a significant need evidenced by local charities and organisations such as the CAB.  A support group has been started which meets at the Rainbow Centre.  This acts as a gateway for veterans to access housing and medical treatment.   There is also a shop in the main street and an office at Yorkshire Coast Homes.  Liaison also takes place with GPs, Cambridge Centre, Mind and support from many others in the community including Robert Goodwill MP and assistance from Captain Tony Viney.  There are currently 50 veterans on their books and the aim is for Scarborough to be a beacon model for other towns to follow.

Gillian Taylor also explained some of the problems ex-forces personnel face when they leave the services, particularly if they are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  This includes difficulties integrating into civilian life because they have had everything provided by the forces some veterans don’t know how to feed and look after themselves, or open a bank account.  This can lead to family breakdown, homelessness, criminal activity, drug and alcohol dependency.  Veterans can also suffer from physical problems due to their activities in the services.  The physical body of a veteran is often 10 years older then their age.   This can include spinal problems, arthritis and mental health problems leading to heart, breathing problems and diabetes.  Problems with unemployment and family breakdown and isolation can also lead to suicide.  Many veterans with these problems do not know where to go for help.

The aim of the Trust is to assist the veterans in getting the specialist help that they need and then to provide opportunities to assist in their recovery by providing activities at Stepney Hill Farm.  These activities include developing rural skills and linking this with conservation, eg hedge and pond restoration, willow growing and creative arts.  Developing horticulture skills and selling the produce through the tea rooms and farm shop.  Selling items of furniture through a craft shop and involving the veterans in making the furniture.  The wider community and local organisations are already involved through donating plants and Yorkshire Coast Homes was carrying out groundwork at 2 sites on the farm. These activities will assist veterans by giving them space and time to recover and provide them with employment and training opportunities.  It could also assist the wider community in promoting tourism opportunities and economic development.  It was also hoped to establish an arboretum for families who had lost loved ones.  Work is also underway to widen the remit of Stepney Hill Farm to include other community groups and was already being used by the Cambridge Centre.

There are three Trustees of First Light Trust and their patron is Bernard Cornwell.  Financially, money has been spent on setting up the charity properly and now the Trust is at a turning point to commence the activities with paid workers and the Trust to be financially self-sustaining.  This would only be achievable through fundraising and support from the community.

A member asked whether there were any veterans from Afghanistan in addition to Falklands and Northern Ireland veterans?  Gillian Taylor replied that there were and also veterans from Bosnia, they tended to be a younger age range.  They hoped to do some research on younger veterans, as they may have come from dysfunctional families, or joined the army to escape their home life or no other employment opportunities.   By the nature of their young age they hadn’t developed the coping strategies they needed in the civilian world and this could lead to problems. However the Trust met with a wide age range of veterans. 

A member asked why the State did not pick up the cost and did the Trust work with the Royal British Legion?  Gillian Taylor replied that the problem was there was no ground level community work being done to reach out to the veterans and signpost them to the appropriate support.  The veterans do not know how to access the support they need.  When the Trust has identified the veterans they then contact the appropriate support and gave an example of a recent case where they had worked with SAFFA to assist a veteran.  The Trust also was working with local mental health services and now had a care pathway that local doctors could refer veterans to.  Work had also been done with the Police so that the Police ask people whether they have served in the forces so they can direct them to the appropriate support.  Gillian Taylor had recently attended a conference which included the MoD and how they were looking at better resources to tackle this problem, particularly as 5,000 service personnel would be leaving the forces this summer.  A visit had been made to Catterick to look at the programme for physical disablement but when the programme had been completed the veteran moved to a flat with no support.  There was a need to get that infrastructure in place.

A member commented on the funding situation and the similar financial circumstances presented by the Disablement Action Group in their presentation at the previous meeting.  Gillian Taylor responded they wanted to look at the farm as a business model and be self-funding.  They also did not want to repeat what other charities were doing.  However, they had got this far with very little funding but they did want to utilise support whilst the armed forces had a high profile due to the current conflicts.

Gillian Taylor also commented on the Raincliffe Wood project and that, from a personal point of view, it was important to them how this project progresses as the farm faced Row Brow.

The Chairman thanked Gillian Taylor for her informative presentation.

RESOLVED that the presentation be received and the issues noted.