Welcome to our first news update of the year, we hope 2023 got off to a good start for you all, and hope better is still to come. It’s going to be a busy year and a crucial one for ensuring outcomes of the LGBT Veterans’ Independent Review’s Report are heard, understood and justly implemented, so do please stay tuned.

We started 2023 off with our Research Conference and Pride in Veterans Standard Launch. Our research, with Northumbria University’s Northern Hub of Veterans and Military Families Research, began with us signing an MOU in February 2021, and our research programme, supported by AFCFT funding and NHS England is due for publishing in May 2023. The Pride in Veterans Standard (PiVS) is a programme run by Fighting With Pride open to any organisation that provides veteran core services or support. PiVS offers organisations providing services to veterans the opportunity to visibly demonstrate their commitment to providing inclusive and welcoming support to LGBT+ Veterans, serving personnel and their families.

We have always used the research to raise awareness of the impact of the ban as it progressed, and our First Phase Report is part of this, including the data and findings of our Qualitative interviews and a first look at our Quantitative survey data. On 12th January 2023, the 23rd Anniversary of the lifting of the ban, Northumbria University hosted the first-ever collaborative Research Conference on UK LGBT+ Veterans where we launched the First Phase Report. The conference was very well attended with representatives of 37 different organisations including government, local government, veterans charities and organisations, LGBT+ charities, health and well-being providers, academics and veterans. Lord Etherton delivered a keynote address with feedback on the Independent Review Call for Evidence phase, and Kate Davies CBE spoke about NHS service provision and the need to ensure future services are well placed to welcome and support LGBT+ Veterans along with all veterans. The conference hosts, Dr Gill McGill and Dr Alison Osborne, did an amazing job in arranging and providing a day of learning and understanding that impacted all who attended.  Huge thanks must go to our LGBT+ Veterans Panel for providing the incredibly moving experience of hearing their accounts.

The rail strikes in week one impacted our Armed Forces Covenant signing event and we ended up moving it to March, but on 16th and 17th January our VCWs, managers and executive team all came together at St Pancras Hospital, London for training by the NHSE Op COURAGE team. The training was whole-heartedly supported by NHSE to help FWP’s Community Team develop a better understanding and informed response to mental health challenges especially when connecting with veterans suffering enduring traumatic experiences that require added care and support. The training was invaluable to allow FWP to better help all who reach out to us and to recognise appropriate referral needs and pathways.  It will also help our team look after themselves too. The impact of listening to the details of so many difficult journeys is something that can be distressing for all involved for many reasons, including triggering own memories of service experiences. Looking after those who care for others is just as essential.

On 23rd January we held our first Scotland Conference and launched the Pride in Veterans Standard (PiVS) in Scotland at the fabulous campus of Stirling University. It was an exceptionally well attended conference, with an opening address from Susie Hamilton Veterans Commissioner for Scotland and the conference was closed by Keith Brown MSP, Minister for Justice and Veterans. Dr Gill and Dr Alison also briefed the Research First Report, but our particular thanks go again to those amazing veterans who took part in the LGBT+ Veterans Panel, who once more brought silence as the room listened attentively to accounts of the impacts of the ban, impressing upon all there why the need to support our LGBT+ Veterans is so important and essential today.

On 26th January we were delighted to hold our first Wales Conference and Launch of PiVS in Wales too. Held at Tŷ Llewellyn Army Reserve Centre in Cardiff, our conference was opened by Hannah Blythyn MS, Deputy Minister for Social Partnership, and it was closed by James Phillips, Veterans Commissioner for Wales, both of whom spoke passionately of their commitment to ensure inclusive support and veterans services in Wales for LGBT+ Veterans, serving personnel and families.

We were excited to hold our first Conferences in Newcastle, Stirling and Cardiff, and we’re very much looking forward to an opportunity being arranged for Belfast in the very near future too.

In between our Conferences it was work as usual, and of note we were able to meet with The Rt Hon Dr Andrew Murrison MP, Minister for Defence People and Veterans, in MoD Main Building, as well as Crispin Blunt MP in Westminster, and we’re delighted that Crispin has taken great interest and has already tabled written questions to the Secretary of State for Defence in response.

We also ran our first Drop-In for LGBT+ Veterans, in Newcastle. It was a small event but very well received and we look forward to creating more of these opportunities in collaboration with partners throughout the UK. We also enjoyed a day speaking with the RAF Association team at their Astral House HQ in Leicester and are really looking forward to developing that relationship.

February is looking to be another busy month for us, especially with participation in LGBT History Month events, but we are really excited to be recruiting new Trustees to join our Board too. If this interests you, please see below for more details.

An exciting year lies ahead and we look forward to seeing as many of you as possible throughout our many events, please do join us for our first Town Hall for 2023, being held online on Monday 13th February from 1830, see below for further details, and do watch out for us at the Gaydio Pride Awards in Manchester on 10thFebruary where we are delighted to be a Shortlisted Finalist in the Charity of the Year Award.

Best wishes,

Caroline and Craig

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