Free health and wellbeing support for veterans in East Renfrewshire

Veterans David Martin and James McEwan, with East Renfrewshire Culture and Leisure's Live Active Physical Activity and Health Advisor Stephanie Elliot and Active Health and Wellbeing Development Manager Carolynne McKendry.
Veterans David Martin and James McEwan, with East Renfrewshire Culture and Leisure's Live Active Physical Activity and Health Advisor Stephanie Elliot and Active Health and Wellbeing Development Manager Carolynne McKendry.

East Renfrewshire Culture and Leisure (ERCL) is the first leisure trust in Scotland to offer a free health and wellbeing support programme for veterans.

The Health for Heroes programme gives armed forces, army, navy and air force veterans a free gym and fitness membership, access to one-to-one and group sessions.

They can also attend Live Active sessions twice a week with support from expert health advisors, who have been trained to carry out health and well-being consultations and can provide a personal exercise, nutrition and fitness plan.

The membership includes unlimited access to ERCL’s gyms, pools, fitness classes and health suites at each of their four East Renfrewshire locations.

So far, fourteen veterans are signed up to the Health for Heroes scheme in East Renfrewshire and there are plans for other council regions to offer a similar programme.

Veterans David Martin and James McEwan are both army veterans and next-door neighbours who live in Barrhead. They use the service at the Barrhead Foundry, which has recently completed its extensive refurbishment.

David served in Afghanistan in 2011 and 2012. He was discharged from the army in September 2015 due to a brain injury and coma, after he was involved in a car crash. He was in London for the Remembrance Sunday parade at the weekend to mark Armistice with the Scottish War Blinded Centre.

David said: “The gym membership has really worked out for my health. Going to the gym and doing yoga every week has been great for my physical fitness and for boosting my mental health too and makes me feel like I’m doing the right thing for my well-being, since having a brain injury.

“I’ve lost 2.5 stone to date, thanks to a combination of a good diet and exercise.”

His next door neighbour, James, joined the army in 1972 and served in Northern Ireland.

James said: “Coming to the gym, playing badminton with a friend or going for a swim is good therapy. Veterans stick together so David and I keep an eye out for each other and I’m also part of a new peer support groups for veterans, which has just started at Barrhead Foundry.”

East Renfrewshire Culture and Leisure works closely with each veteran to devise a personal fitness programme based on their individual circumstances. They have access to 1-1 and group sessions and ongoing support throughout their journey, should they need it.

“Veteran members can also bring a friend or family member to accompany them during their workout or activity. David often attends with him mum, while James attends with his partner.

Professor Grant Jarvie, Chair of East Renfrewshire Culture and Leisure, said: “We are very proud to be able to offer this service to veterans and to be able to support their physical and mental wellbeing.

“We have spaces for additional veterans who may wish to be involved too and we would invite any veteran living in the area to make contact to arrange a free consultation.

“It’s been such a positive move for our members and we would like to continue to develop this vital support service.”

East Renfrewshire Council Veterans Support Advisor Jane Duncan, who was a Warrant Officer and served in the army for 22 years, has witnessed the positive impact that the service can have first-hand.

Jane explained: “The Health for Heroes initiative was initially suggested by a veteran who had seen several comrades killed in Iraq and had been made homeless upon returning to the UK. He built himself back up and wrote to local councils suggesting the idea.

“We owe so much to those who serve to protect our peace and freedom, and signing up to The Armed Forces Covenant is our agreement to support and help our service personnel. This project is such a great example of collaborative working at the highest level, all personnel involved has been so supportive and really eager to ensure that veterans have the best experience possible in the community.”

Any veteran who thinks they would benefit from the Health for Heroes membership should contact Jane Duncan for an initial chat.

Jane can be contacted on 0141 577 3043 or jane.duncan@eastrenfrewshire.gov.uk