You may, or may not, be aware that the Duke of Westminster is leading the campaign to establish a new £300m Defence National Rehabilitation Centre at Stanford Hall near Loughborough, to look after troops for the next 60 years. The Duke’s charity bought the estate, and Prince William is patron. It will be supported by Government, charities, and big business, with the next phase of fundraising focused on a public appeal.
To find out more about the need for rehabilitation, a couple of weeks ago I visited the Help for Heroes centre in Colchester, and discussed how the private, and public, sectors could support employment for injured servicemen and women.
The statistics are startling: 453 killed in the latest Iraq/Afghanistan campaigns, alone, and 70,000 left injured or sick; 20,000 were medically discharged. Additionally, the Services are downsizing at the rate of 2,000-3,000 a year. Service personnel of all ranks have many skills, from engineering, medicine and logistics to IT, management, and team working; they are reliable, disciplined, intelligent and hard working, as well as flexible and able to think for themselves. Qualities demanded by today’s businesses.
I’m told by H4H that they are especially interested in careers outdoors, with horticulture, sport and working with young people high on the agenda, as well as engineering and running their own business. We can’t afford to let such skills go to waste, yet I have spent the last 18 months trying to get businesses, and public sector employers, to engage with the opportunities, although my local LEP, MP and a further education college are all supportive, indicating that – in addition to MoD grants (which are difficult to access) – some funding could be available to cover start-up and training costs, subject to the usual caveats.
So, what sort of business? My answer would be a social enterprise, with the aim to reinvest profits in the business, but also in Stanford Hall, making it sustainable over the long term.
There is a demand for reliable property/site facilities management/maintenance right across the spectrum of development, from commercial and industrial, to the Arts, education and housing, both social and private, as well as in the NHS. Project managers are also in great demand, but in short supply, especially in the public sector.
There is also a big demand for reliable Disclosure & Barring Service (DBS) checked tradesmen to provide services to our expanding older population, often ripped off by ruthless people whose abilities are questionable. Plumbers, electricians, gardeners, carpenters, general handymen, are all needed, as are adaptations for older or disabled residents which can take up to two years to supply in parts of the country. Fitting a simple handrail quickly to prevent falls could save the NHS millions in emergency care and hip replacements. Both the Fire Service and Police could also assist with training tradesmen to help keep vulnerable people safe in their homes.
DEMOS recently reported that 1 in 3 people over 60 want to downsize. Many would welcome a simple and comprehensive advisory package to help them move: loft clearance, removals, legal, reinstating services for TV, phone, painting and decorating, etc. This could release thousands of family homes for younger generations.
Central services could also be established on commercial/industrial estates for businesses, offering shared HR and payroll, tax and legal advice, logistics support, marketing and PR expertise – bringing significant savings for start-ups, as well as established organisations.
With the right branding (Help our Heroes?) on clothing, vans, adverts, company cars, window displays, developers’ site boards and estate agents’ flagboards, everyone signing up to use the social enterprise would benefit substantially through greater awareness of their own business, whilst supporting a good cause. Just look at the success of Comic Relief.
A year ago, Lord Ashcroft published his report encouraging businesses to work with the Armed Services to development opportunities, yet progress is patchy.
Public bodies, including local authorities, could take the lead, working with local and national employers to set up a network of social enterprises around the country, and honour the Military Covenant. At a time when money is tight, I reckon councils would see considerable efficiency savings too.