Case Study – Operation Veteran
Like many veterans, returning to civilian life was not easy for Jim, but he managed to get himself back on his feet and swapped drinking for education.
Jim’s break came via The Prince’s Trust, who helped him gain a BA (Hons) in Teaching, and he went on to lecture in a range of subjects, including employability, health & social care, and IT.
He often called upon his own experiences to help others. However, after redundancy Jim found himself unemployed once more and unable to find work.
He sat for months thinking about what he could do and that’s when he came up with the idea for Operation Veteran to develop support systems and provide services to help veterans with the transition from the Armed Forces to Civvy Street. He spent the following few months putting together a business plan.
But Jim had no money to support his idea and came across the New Enterprise Allowance scheme, delivered by TEDCO Business Support Ltd in North Tyneside. On reviewing Jim‘s business plan, his business advisor quickly referred him on to Toni Clark, The Business Factory’s Social Enterprise Business Advisor.
You don’t know what you don’t know!
It quickly became apparent that the business model he’d considered wasn’t going to work for what he wanted to do, and a rethink was needed. Jim had considered setting Operation Veteran up as a charity, a limited company, or even a sole trader but he wasn’t aware of Community Interest Companies.
He wanted the benefits that an organisation with charitable aims would afford, but he needed to create something with which he could also support himself. Control of the organisation’s direction was also paramount to Jim, and Toni helped him come to the decision that a Community Interest Company was the right choice.
It gave him the best of both worlds, allowing him to generate revenue to support his members, whilst maintaining a charitable aim and the access to support and funding afforded to organisations which operate on a none profit distribution basis.
Jim has never been afraid of hard work, so he began furiously rewriting his business plan, working closely with Toni. Together they created a business plan that could deliver his vision.
A safe place for veterans
Jim’s goal was to support veterans by providing a safe place to meet, share experiences and support each other.
With no money, the first step was to start fund raising. With a passion for antiques and collectibles, Jim bought and sold antiques and collectibles on a weekend, using the money he made to buy business cards and posters to start promoting Operation Veteran.
That hard work paid off with Jim’s first big win, securing space at the YMCA in North Shields to run breakfast clubs. It was initially funded by a very generous donation from Darcey’s Candles of Kilmarnock and then through the Awards for All lottery funding.
The initial plan was to run one breakfast club per month, but the demand was such that he quickly added another and over the months added coffee mornings at the Exchange in North Shields and games nights at The Avondale, Byker.
Jim wasn’t unfamiliar with working with multiple agencies, in fact, it was something he was quite good at. He very quickly started to build relationships with other third-party organisations, inviting them to present and engage with his members, organisations such as:
- Project Nova
- SSAFA – The Armed Forces Charity
- The British Legion
- Walking With The Wounded
Everything was going well then Covid hit, and everything shut down.
Then, just as if fate had intended it, Jim happened upon a property on Nile Street, North Shields. Yes, it was rundown, yes it was dilapidated but it had huge potential. With luck still on side, Operation Veteran was selected by North Tyneside Councillor Wendy Lott to be one of two good causes to receive a donation of £8,750 to help set up the premises.
With that donation in the bank, Jim got on to social media in an attempt to rustle up some help from the local community and the response was amazing. In no time, Jim had a group of volunteers, all ready to muck in. A group that included 10 veterans who had trades that would prove invaluable in the refitting of the premises.
Indeed, the local business community chipped in as well, generously donating time, money, and supplies.
“Having our own premises was a real game-changer and I could really move things forward. However, I’d never been involved with HR, I’d never managed a payroll, I needed help and once again The Business Factory team was fantastic.
In addition to providing support and training workshops (their introduction to social media workshop was especially useful), they would signpost me to businesses and organisations who could help, including an accountant that specialised in CICs.
I was under an awful lot of pressure and things would go wrong, but Toni Clark was always there, providing advice and guidance or pulling me back in when I’d gone astray. I have so much respect for Toni, she knows this sector like no one else. And when it comes to funding applications, there’s no one better, indeed her help has allowed us to quadruple turnover.
During Covid a lot of our veterans were shielding, so we had to switch things up and started to make welfare checks, making as many as 100 calls a week. We set up peer support networks, arranged food parcels, and even topped up gas and electricity for our members who could not get out.
Helping Veterans reintegrate with society, we ensure they have a roof over their head, ensuring they are getting the benefits they need, looking at their health, their well-being, and helping those that can get back into work.”
Operation Veteran now runs breakfast clubs, drop-ins, beach walks, and activities related to health and wellbeing; such as tenpin bowling, fishing trips, and regular fish and chip dinners. For those who want to get a little bit more active, there’s walking football and walking basketball. All are without charge for veterans.
“Other initiatives include our Pay It Forward scheme, that we run at the coffee shop. This allows people to come in and make donations towards the free teas and coffee we offer anyone over the age of 65. And the support has been incredible, with upwards of £1,400 being donated in the first few days of the scheme.”
“I’m blown away by the success we’ve had and I’ll be forever indebted to The Business Factory and Toni!
There is still a lot to do and we are constantly assessing the needs of our members, looking at potential services and I’m still working with Toni.
We’ve got our community hub which we can rent out, but we also offer it free to other veterans organisations.
Visibility has been key and it’s led to so many unexpected wins.
It’s always nice to know I’ve got The Business Factory in the background if I’ve got any questions, any worries, or any concerns, I can just pick up the phone and they’re there.”
Find out more about the great work Jim is doing on his website.