SUPPORT is at hand for former Armed Forces personnel in North and Mid-Wales following the appointment of a specialist at Help for Heroes tasked with tackling loneliness and isolation among veterans.
Dolgellau-based Sarah Hattle, 40, left the Royal Navy in the summer after 21 years of service and has joined the Charity in the position of Project Case Manager, a role funded for two years by the Armed Forces Covenant.
“Upon leaving the Navy, I knew I wanted to go into the charity sector, so I started looking at military and maritime charities. When this position came up, I thought, initially, it was too good to be true. But here I am.
“I’m quite passionate about being Welsh – although I’m originally from St Albans; I learned to speak Welsh as an adult and the children are all fluent, so I do consider myself to be Welsh now. Living in Wales and running a project on my home turf, for a charity I can really get on board with, is very exciting.
“It’s sort of a blank canvas because it’s a new role for the region. I want to make a difference to existing beneficiaries and reach out to veterans who, perhaps, haven’t engaged with the charity previously, whether that’s through mountain-biking, a swimming club, a book club … whatever the need I’m hoping to be able to cater for it.”
The mum of four joined the Navy straight from school and, like many of us during the first lockdown, became acutely aware of how easy it is for some people to become isolated.
“Covid made me – and I would imagine a lot of other people – look at things completely differently.
“In the first lockdown, I didn’t see anybody for three whole months apart from my husband and children, as we live remotely in a forest. It made me aware of just how easily one can become socially isolated – and it felt like something I could really help with.
“At the time I was still working for the Navy and trying to home-school four kids, so I was occupied, but not everybody had that daily interaction. What kept me sane was the ability to go out walking, mountain biking and wild swimming, for example, and all of these sorts of extra activities are encompassed within this role.
“I really appreciated the value of being able to get outdoors and saw what a difference it made to us. I really felt for families stuck in high-rise flats, for example; I don’t know how they got through it. Being in North Wales myself, I feel I’m part of the community we’re trying to reach. Covid has probably made us all realise how easily we can become isolated.”
Outside of her day job, the effervescent Hattle runs the local mountain-biking club and is an independent member of the Snowdonia National Park Authority board. She realises that for some of her contemporaries her move to the ‘charity sector’ may come as something of a surprise – but it fits her like the proverbial glove.
“I was a warfare officer so it’s an unusual transition. Most of my former colleagues have gone into corporate-type jobs, pretty much all London-based with long daily commutes. But that’s the exact opposite of what I wanted to do. I wanted to help people and not make money for a big corporation. I wanted to feel like I was making a difference.
“The last year has really made me aware of the effect social isolation can have on people, and the last 21 years in the Navy have hopefully given me a really good understanding of veterans and the military culture.
“It’s part of who I am. I speak the language; I understand the slightly strange humour us military folk have; and then living, speaking and breathing Welsh all combine to, hopefully, make me the perfect individual for this role.”
Help for Heroes believes those who serve our country deserve support when they’re wounded. Every day, men and women must leave their career in the Armed Forces as a result of physical or psychological wounds. The Charity helps them, and their families, to recover and get on with their lives. It has already supported more than 26,500 people and won’t stop until every wounded veteran gets the support they deserve.
For further information on Help for Heroes, or to get support, please visit: helpforheroes.org.uk.