South Tyneside Council would like to remind the Borough's Armed Forces community that support is still available during the Coronavirus pandemic.
One of the ways the Council helps to support the armed forces is through the Navy, Army, Airforce and Families Institute (NAAFI) Break - a dedicated face-to-face drop-in service which is run by veterans, and enables serving and ex-serving personnel, reservists and their families, to meet, socialise, network and get advice and support on civilian life.
Although the Covid-19 pandemic has meant that their usual twice-monthly meetings have been temporarily suspended, the NAAFI Break committee has remained active in the community to ensure veterans have continued to get the support they need.
They have also turned to virtual platforms to keep connected; using methods such as ZOOM video conferencing, Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger as well as through regular phone calls, text messages and emails.
Ex-soldier Joe Mills, who works as a volunteer at NAAFI Break, said: "Many reservists and veterans suffer with unfamiliarity of civilian life, often many years after leaving the service. Some find it extremely difficult to enter out into the community, feel unable to socialise and, more importantly, are unaware of how to deal with day to day matters.
"NAAFI Break offers veterans the opportunity to become involved in that familiar military banter environment, hopefully triggering a feeling of belonging again.
"We understand that these are extremely unsettling times for everyone, which is why we are committed to helping those who need support during the Coronavirus pandemic.
"We hold a weekly ZOOM catch-up chat and briefing sessions for both veterans and family dependents, as well as a daily veterans chat on Facebook Messenger to help ease the hardship of isolation. A NAAFI Break Community Officer is also available to help with lone isolation for shopping and deliveries.
"I would urge any veteran or member of the Armed Forces community who may be struggling with their mental health or feelings of loneliness to get in touch. We are here to help and can assist you in accessing the wide range of support that is available."
The NAAFI Break was established in October 2016 and is usually held on the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of the month, at Trinity House in South Shields.
The group has grown from strength to strength and is just one of the ways South Tyneside Council supports the local Armed Forces community.
Through its Armed Forces Community Covenant pledge, the Council works to ensure services personnel, past and present, and their families, are not disadvantaged when accessing public services such as employment, housing and education. This is driven forward by the South Tyneside Armed Forces Forum.
Councillor Ed Malcolm, Chairman of the Forum, said: "We recognise the sacrifices made by our service men and women and are committed to helping them with the pressures they can face in adapting back to civilian life.
"The NAAFI Break is a core element of our approach providing a community base for Armed Forces personnel where they can talk to like-minded people and receive the necessary support and advice they need. It is proving to be a real success.
"I would like to remind residents that, although services may be delivered differently during the Coronavirus pandemic, our teams are still here to help. The Armed Forces Community remains very much foremost in our minds and we will do all we can to help and support serving and ex-service men and women with whatever it is that they need."
Support is also available through South Tyneside Council's Support Hub for any serving, reservists or veterans and their dependents. If you are isolated in South Tyneside, without any means of support, you can call the Covid-19 Community Support Hub for free on 0800 028 2955 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm). This service is for people who have no other means of support such as neighbours, family or friends, support from organisations and their volunteers, to get access to essentials such as food or those who are struggling with their wellbeing and need signposting to services who can help.