Veterans Housing Scotland appeals for help to hit target

A national charity set up to give veterans the chance to live in their own home is appealing for help from Aberdeenshire Council to hit their latest target.
Aberdeenshire Provost Judy Whyte receives a framed certificate from VHS chairman, Group Captain Bob Kemp, in recognition of the council's support. Image: Veterans Housing ScotlandAberdeenshire Provost Judy Whyte receives a framed certificate from VHS chairman, Group Captain Bob Kemp, in recognition of the council's support. Image: Veterans Housing Scotland
Aberdeenshire Provost Judy Whyte receives a framed certificate from VHS chairman, Group Captain Bob Kemp, in recognition of the council's support. Image: Veterans Housing Scotland

Veterans Housing Scotland (VHS) is calling on both Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire councils to work alongside them to smash its 25 by 25 campaign.

The charity currently has around 650 properties throughout Scotland, but it is always looking at ways to increase that figure.

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Charity chiefs travelled to Aberdeenshire Council’s Woodhill House headquarters recently in a bid to add to their north-east property portfolio.

Veterans Housing Scotland has 24 homes in Aberdeen, found on Summerhill Terrace and Summerhill Road. It is responsible for 23 properties across Aberdeenshire in locations including Huntly and Inverurie.

The homes are provided to veterans who apply as homeless or have specific mental or physical health requirements.

Chief executive Kevin Gray met with the head of housing at Aberdeenshire Council last year and was delighted to have had a “beneficial” conversation.

But, he is hoping this latest visit will help to increase the charity’s housing stock in the north-east even further.

“The range and complexity of veterans who are approaching VHS in need of support and housing is increasing alarmingly,” he explained.

Chairman Bob Kemp explained that a veteran today is not what you would typically expect.

He said: “We used to think of a veteran as an old man with lots of medals, walks with a limp, he’s got a stick and lots of wonderful stories to tell.”

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Bob revealed he had met up with 103-year-old John Cruickshank, who holds the Victoria Cross, for lunch before the Aberdeen meeting.

“There is your typical veteran, but a veteran today is not like John,” Bob stated. “It’s just as likely to be a young lad or lady in their twenties who has been discharged from one of the three services because of an injury, either physical or mental.”

And this is where Veterans Housing Scotland comes in.

“We provide accommodation, help and advice to young people who are veterans,” Bob explained. “Although John is probably the ‘ultimate’ in veterans, the young folk of today are equally in need of our help and support.”

In 1915, a group of Scottish businessmen met to discuss ways in which they could help disabled veterans on their return from the throes of war.

Bob explained that change was needed as veterans dreamed of a better life upon returning home injured, dejected and broken.

He said: “From the overcrowded and squalid urban tenements where many veterans had been born and brought up, and now returned, there was little hope. The country was in turmoil, not well set up to receive those in need. Veterans had little or no prospect of decent accommodation or employment ahead of them.”

The charity, as it is known today, was formed by merging the Scottish Veterans Garden City Association (SVGCA) and Scottish Garden City Housing Society (SGCHS).

Veterans Housing Scotland has its own homes, but it also has two other ways to add properties to its stock.

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It uses a shared equity scheme, where initial purchase costs are shared with a third party and the rent is split.

The other way sees the charity persuade councils to give it nomination rights to properties in their areas.

Under this move, Veterans Housing Scotland selects the tenant and the rent goes to the local authority.

The charity has successfully secured nomination rights with a number of councils and housing associations, and is seeking similar partnerships with Aberdeenshire.

Kevin said: “We are committed to ensuring that disabled veterans and their families are supported and have access to suitably adapted homes. That is our vision, that is our dream.”

Last year, the charity launched its 25 by 25 campaign, aimed at securing nomination rights for 25 additional homes by 2025 in time for its 110th anniversary.

Kevin revealed that support from partners so far has been “really encouraging” and the charity was on track to smash its target.

Since the campaign started, the charity has gained six homes in East Lothian.

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Midlothian has given four properties and promised another six this year and a further two per year.

Hillcrest Homes in Edinburgh will hand over five houses by the end of 2024, and West Dunbartonshire Council has pledged two per year on an ongoing basis.

Kevin added: “I’m confident that if we got one or two homes from Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, we would smash that target easily.”

But who exactly benefits from Veterans Housing Scotland?

Veteran John Tonner attended the event to tell his story.

He joined the RAF in 2012 and was posted to the 58 Sqn RAF Regiment based at Leuchars.

When he arrived, the squadron was training to deploy to Afghanistan and John was sent out there aged 19.

John served in the RAF for ten years, including two operational tours in Afghanistan.

While out in the middle east, he worked on the medical emergency response team in the air ambulance, dealing with various casualties and injuries.

He explained: “You would see children, women and soldiers themselves. We would pick them up, patch them up and hopefully have them successfully live on.

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“But there were times we were flying with the deceased with us which was one of the hardest tasks that I had.”

However, the work started to take a toll on his mental health and he was later medically discharged in February 2022.

John heard of VHS through his personal recovery officer and was lucky to find a “perfect” property for him and his family down in Hawick.

Not long after receiving help from the charity, John became a member of staff at VHS after successfully applying for a visiting officer role.

Kevin added: “We are here for those people who need that wee bit of help to get back on the straight and narrow and on to firm footing.”

Aberdeenshire provost Judy Whyte said it was a “huge pleasure” to host the charity at the special event.

She also confirmed that the council would be keen to work in partnership with Veterans Housing Scotland to help them hit their target.

Provost Whyte said: “Working with veterans, the armed forces, cadets and other active groups is a priority for us.

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“A big focus for us as a local authority is our housing portfolio, so it’s great to be here discussing the needs of veterans in the housing mix across Scotland and the ways in which we can work together.”

Her statement was echoed by deputy provost Ron McKail, who himself is a veteran.

He added: “I’m very privileged to have served in the RAF, it was an excellent experience for me.”