Serving Bristol’s veterans: how Bedminster CC became the focal point for crucial support and assistance

More than 200 veterans have been given vital access to targeted services, mental health professionals, and financial advice thanks to the pioneering efforts of a team of volunteers based at Bedminster CC.

The brainchild of mental health nurse and Bedminster CC mental health and wellbeing champion Andy Sheldrake, the Bristol Veterans’ Hub is a monthly event that provides a safe space for veterans looking for help and support. 

“I’ve been working in the veterans’ mental health service for about four years,” explains Andy. “Myself and my colleague Jo identified we were missing something, but we weren’t sure what. We got our heads together and realised there isn’t a place for veterans to come and get support ‘outside of the wire’ (away from a Forces base). Going ‘behind the wire’ can bring back memories of when they were in service.

“Jo contacted lots of other agencies – like Veterans UK, Help for Heroes, and the British Legion – and they all thought our idea was good. But we needed a location. That’s when I suggested Bedminster CC. I spoke to our chair, Rob Eggerton, and he said ‘yes’ without even thinking about it. The support from the club has been unhesitating and absolutely brilliant.”

The first Hub took place in July 2022. It has happened on the last Thursday of every month ever since. At each Hub, veterans can access a range of services and trained professionals, including:
•    Occupational therapists and physios
•    Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) assistance
•    Job-seeking advice from Forces Employment Charity and The Poppy Factory
•    Bristol City Council representatives advising on housing and employment
•    Mental health nurses
•    Case managers from Help for Heroes

“We’ve had a few veterans spending three or four hours with us and saving themselves a year of hassle, stress, and anxiety,” says Andy. “They walk through the door, get a personal welcome with a cup of tea and a bacon butty, then we’ll sit with them, have a chat, and find out what’s going on.

“The impact is really positive. Some veterans may just come in because while they don’t what’s wrong, they’ve just identified things aren’t great. It may just be that they’ll have a quiet chat with us that leaves them feeling heard and listened to. They get the confidence that comes from knowing they’ve got some support. They know we’ll be there.”

Veteran Paul Banks (Army) says: “The Bristol Veterans’ Hub is an invaluable place to come. It’s somewhere where I feel safe to discuss any concerns or worries I may have. To be able to access all support and guidance under the same roof is something all veterans should have access to.”

George, a veteran of the Royal Navy, adds: “The Bristol Veterans’ Hub has given me all the support I need for both my mental and physical health. I can’t fault it.”

Andy says the support from Bedminster CC and the wider community has been outstanding. “Everyone has embraced what’s going on and they understand the importance of it. Even simple things, like the summer schools that are hosted at the club keeping their distance and giving the veterans some privacy, they all show how welcoming the community is.”

Each Hub attracts up to 20 veterans, ranging from those in their early 20s all the way to retired veterans in their 70s and 80s. “If they’ve done a single day’s service, we’ll see them and their families,” says Andy.

“The Bristol Veterans’ Hub combines two of my biggest passions – mental health and cricket – so I love being involved. Working in the veterans’ health service teaches you that they’re a different breed. I tell a lot of veterans that I was never brave enough to even consider signing up, but this is my way of giving something back to them and thanking them for what they’ve done for us.”