When many people think of Royal Navy in geographic terms, they think only of the clusters of sailors, marines, veterans and families around the main base ports of Portsmouth, Plymouth and Faslane. However, naval communities can be found across the length and breadth of the UK (and indeed beyond), and it is critical that serving personnel, families and veterans have access to the right support, wherever they are.
In 2020 the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity (RNRMC) began working with Woody’s Lodge to support the veteran community in South East Wales. A £44,000 grant from the RNRMC and its funding partner, Greenwich Hospital, allowed Woody’s Lodge to actively engage with the Royal Navy & Royal Marine veterans community through the appointment of a new dedicated RN/RM Project Officer, as well as enabling greater access to social, signposting and support facilities. The funding has increased Woody’s Lodge reach and improved their support provision, which has been vital during the uncertain and challenging times faced by many during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Woody’s Lodge was founded in 2016 in memory of Paul “Woody” Woodland, a Royal Marine and member of the Elite Special Boat Service who lost his life in a training exercise in 2012. Woody’s Lodge is a social hub, which guides veterans to the help and support they need to re-engage with their families and communities. Woody’s Lodge offer support with financial issues, housing and employment and healthcare referrals.
The organisation also help tackle loneliness and isolation through social events and spaces and with support from RNRMC funding, provide free minibus transport with wheelchair access to and from the Lodge itself. 97-year-old Royal Navy WW2 veteran, Gerald Owen is one of many who have benefited from this service. Living alone and with no immediate family for support, Woody’s Lodge transport has been a lifeline for Gerald, helping him get out of the house and socialise with other veterans. During lockdown, Gerald’s essential transport needs have been taken care of, and he has also received regular food parcels and twice weekly phone calls from the Woody’s Lodge team.
The partnership between Woody’s Lodge and the RNRMC has also helped keep veterans connected through the pandemic via technology. Funding from the RNRMC has allowed Woody’s Lodge to purchase electronic tablets, which have provided isolated veterans with the means of maintaining communication with friends, family and Woody’s Lodge support. Colin Williams served in the Royal Marines during the 1960s and 70s and used to be a regular at his local Royal Marines Association meetings in Swansea. COVID-19 brought this essential social interaction to an abrupt halt for Colin, leaving his ability to connect with other significantly reduced. Last year, Colin became the first veteran to receive a tablet from Woody’s Lodge, enabling him to stay connected through email and social media sites to friends, family, fellow veterans and his support network within the Royal Marines Association. The tablet also allowed Colin to download and read books in a bigger format, listen to music and watch films.
By working closely with Woody’s Lodge, the RNRMC can respond to the needs of veterans in South Wales effectively. The local knowledge and connections of regional organisations allows the RNRMC to maintain an agile and proactive approach, providing naval communities with a helping hand right across the country.