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Using the Power of Rugby to Keep Veterans Connected

Gloucester Rugby has a proud track record of supporting the Armed Forces and Veterans community. Whether it be through Armed Forces Day celebrations, supporting Royal British Legion activities, or hosting Forces’ rugby fixtures at Kingsholm, the cherry and whites take pride in celebrating the work of those who serve, or have previously served.

In recent years, Gloucester Rugby Foundation, the club’s independent charity, has developed a series of accessible community programmes designed to support veterans to maintain positive wellbeing, access employment, and develop new skills. The impact of Covid-19 has increased the need for such activities, and with many residents facing increasing challenge with loneliness, isolation, and mental health, veterans are sadly at an increased risk to such inequalities.

One project which has supported the local veteran community throughout the pandemic has been ‘Senior Pro’, an initiative launched back in 2019 with the support of Veterans’ Foundation, designed to support older veterans connect, form new friendships and be active through walking rugby. With an aim of supporting veterans to have improved physical and mental health, improved friendships, and a better understanding and awareness of health and wellbeing services available to them in their local community, over fifty veterans accessed activities from sites including Kingsholm Stadium in the first year alone.

But how did it adapt to the challenges of Covid-19? Gloucester Rugby’s Head of Community and Charity Helen Chu explains:

‘We had been absolutely delighted with the start of ‘Senior Pro’. We were enjoying working with other veteran support organisations including Help for Heroes and Royal British Legion and had real positive engagement in our early sessions’

‘Many of our veteran participants have had challenge with loneliness and broader mental health issues. We knew early that the ‘lockdowns’ would present real challenges for them and quickly developed a programme of response activities that would help maintain connections and access to positive wellbeing activities’.

‘From daily wellbeing calls and food deliveries to virtual physical activity sessions, digital upskilling, and mental resilience workshops, we have managed to maintain the engagement of our veterans as well as welcoming new ones through a daily virtual offer’.

‘As lockdown restrictions begin to ease, we look forward to our in-person programme restarting, although virtual sessions will remain for those required to shield or isolate’.

David, 68, who has been attending ‘Senior Pro’ sessions since the pandemic started said:

‘Senior Pro has been a life saver for me and the other veterans who have been accessing the sessions. It’s not been easy doing everything online but it’s to keep us safe and we appreciate the work Gloucester Rugby are doing to keep us together’.

‘For me, I enjoy the physical activity, and I’m looking forward to completing my leadership courses over the next year as I want to set up a new veteran walking rugby hub in the city centre’.

For more information on the Foundation’s work please contact Helen Chu on 01452 872289.

To learn more about the work of Veterans’ Foundation, please visit their website here: https://www.veteransfoundation.org.uk

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