Our Rural Weeks at Plumpton College

Our first 2 Rural Weeks of 2015 are now behind us and you can see the weeks in pictures here. Thank-you to everyone who joined us and all the staff at Plumpton, and the weather! Link to our first Rural Week here – there will be more news of our other weeks to follow.

Pilot_1_group_photo

Our first pilot Rural Week

Pilot_2_group_photo

Our second pilot Rural Week

Our second and final pilot rural Week at Plumpton College last week began and ended in bright autumnal sunshine – truly a memorable 5 days!

In contrast to our earlier pilot in September when 4 pathfinding participants, 3 serving, one formerly serving joined David and I at Plumpton to test the structure of the programme we had devised to give an overview of the vast range of jobs and careers in the land-based sector for people with military skills and experience; this time we were joined by 9 participants, 7 serving including our first lady, Major Kate Philp RA and 2 veterans.

The organisations who referred our participants to Pilot 2 included the Officers’ Association, The Regular Forces Employment Association, Stoll and The Poppy Factory as well as Headley Court which indicates a growing awareness of HighGround’s work within the Service charity and military sector and as before, David interviewed all referrals in London before they were accepted for the pilot.

Des Lambert, the Principal  and his staff were unfailingly helpful and the safe, professional environment at the College made it easy for our participants to relax and immerse themselves in the new and unfamiliar territory of an agricultural college.

The needs and expectations of our 9 participants aged between early 20’s to mid 50’s – a Guardsman to a Lieutenant Colonel were broad and challenging and we learned many valuable lessons about pitching sessions, timetabling to maintain attention during what is a very intense programme filled with unfamiliar information, and organisational lessons about making best use of  limited time.

Our evening speakers were excellent and special thanks must go to Sam Bullard of Darley Stud Management in Newmarket (ex Blues and Royals) who gave up a whole day to come and talk to us about career opportunities in the racing and breeding industry.

All our speakers shared their knowledge and contacts freely and we thank them all, they have set the bar very high.

Outcomes

Whilst we await Dr Zoe Morrison’s independent valuation of the pilot Rural Weeks with much anticipation, we have already had our first hard outcome – Stuart Douglas,  who came on the first pilot, joined us again last week to do his chainsaw course and passed. He said, “Without HighGround providing the initial help and then their continued support, I would never have pursued this course of potential employment, so I would like to thank them for the opportunity to broaden my horizon and their help to open up doors I didn’t even know were there, Thank you.”

Stuart Douglas, RAF Avionics SNCO. 29 years service (so far)

No matter what their expectations of the week or their motivation for joining us, everyone shared contacts, knowledge and experience and the feeling of optimism and hope as we all gathered for our group photograph at the end of the week was palpable.

When I asked the Principal for a comment for our press release he gave me the following which speaks for itself “We are very proud to be working with HighGround and helping them develop their programme. The participants so far have been keen and enthusiastic and hopefully we have been able to give an insight into the wide range of land-based opportunities which the college teaches for. The land-based world is a diverse one with many opportunities in addition to production agriculture. We hope this will be a long association with HighGround and ironically we are fulfilling one of the objectives which the College was set up for in 1919, following the First World War, which was to train personnel leaving the Armed Forces for a career in the land-based industries.”

What next?

The follow-ups for our bold 9 have already begun as keeping the momentum going is critical to the sustained benefit of the intervention for each individual, no matter whether they are still serving or a veteran making their way in civvy street.

Follow-up action includes arranging volunteering, putting them in contact with work experience providers (landowners are already contacting us with some very generous offers and we have barely scratched the surface – people genuinely Want to help…), finding a course such as Stuart’s chainsaw ticket or a sponsor for an industry course; a requirement in the railway industry for example.

For me, the task of communicating to funders and supporters what HighGround is doing is critical and as soon as Zoe has completed her evaluation, I will be targeting all my media contacts to ensure the widest possible coverage – a good news story in Jan/Feb  with some great images will give us the nationwide coverage we need to raise funding for 2015 and beyond – Country Life, Farmers’ Weekly, in-flight magazines & co, Watch Out!

Raising awareness of HighGround’s land-based careers service within the Service community continues apace and our work at Headley Court gives us precious credibility and traction.

Our Development Board is vital to help us to communicate our message not just within the military community but also the land-based sector and being located at the RHQ of the London Scottish Regiment is another major contributory factor.  There are many potential beneficiaries of HighGround’s service looking for employment who would simply not choose to engage with a charity in an office with no visible connections to the military – ‘how could they help me to find a job…?’

Thank-you to everyone who has helped to make the pilot Rural Weeks possible – we have learned many lessons but above all, there is a need for what we are doing and HighGround works. I hope you enjoy the week in pictures which you can find on our Flickr page.

Anna BC.