The South West of England covers over 10,000 square miles, four counties and the iconic Jurassic coastline – and it’s also home to many military families. We give a flavour of what to expect from a posting to the area…
A lifeline to families
Although it’s a real tourist hotspot, particularly in summer season, some areas are very secluded, which can lead forces families to feel isolated and lonely as Jenna Richardson, AFF south west co-ordinator, explained.
“Public transport can be quite limited, especially during the winter months, so the activities and groups offered via the military bases in the area are a real lifeline to families.” she said.
Across the region, you‘ll find thriving military communities, with frequent baby and toddler groups, health visitor clinics, wives’ choirs, cinema nights, youth clubs, exercise classes, gardening opportunities, additional needs groups and craft sessions, to name a few.
“There’s so much going on and it all helps to make people feel less remote,” said Jenna.
A sense of belonging
The Bovington Military Wives Choir attracts singers from across the region and they perform at lots of events.
Kerstin recently arrived in Bovington following an overseas posting and explained how important it was to her that she could join the choir: “I started with the Paderborn MWC and I loved that I could just relax and sing my heart out.
“I really missed it when we were posted to the USA, so I was very happy when I found out there was one in Bovington.”
Kerstin found that it has really boosted her confidence. “I have made some really precious friends and I really feel like a part of something good in the community,” she said.
Green fingered families
Blandford is a very busy camp with community groups running most days. The latest addition is the community gardens project, which was the idea of army spouse, Zoe.
When the future of the on-camp allotments looked uncertain, she set into action to save them. “I wanted to rejuvenate the gardens in order to create a space for everyone to use when they need some time to relax or de-stress.
“I like to think of it as a garden of wellbeing that can help those suffering with mental health issues or anxiety,” explained Zoe.
WO2 Stuart Hill, the welfare warrant officer for the Blandford Garrison Support Unit, added: “The view across the Downs makes it an ideal location for gardening and for reflection and unwinding – it’s really impressive, especially at sunset.
“By getting the whole community involved – families and staff – it has become something to be proud of that belongs to us all.”
Zoe agreed: “There’s still much to be done: a garden never stops changing and evolving. My hope is that next year the community will come and plant seeds to grow vegetables – then stop and literally smell the roses.
“We welcome any help that you can offer with cutting grass, weeding or planting. This really is a community space, run and maintained by the community.”
Making the most of things
The welfare team at Bovington and Lulworth recently secured funding to renovate the outdoor play area, and with Amey’s help, turned a concrete yard into a beach-themed attraction.
Mandy Walmsley, the garrison welfare officer, told us more: “We have very few facilities in Lulworth, so we wanted to make the most of what we do have.
“The area was just a wasted space, so it’s nice to make it into something for the community.”
The new facilities have gone down well with families. Army spouse Ashleen said: “It’s so nice having this – it was just a concrete yard and not really safe for the children. It’s now lovely and I’m sure it’ll get lots of use.”
The South West is traditionally a naval area with a high number of navy families living here too. Jenna works closely with Pete Hawley, who is the Naval Families Federation community engagement officer for the area.
“We both do a very similar job and cover a huge area,” explained Pete. “Working together means that we can support military families to provide a better, more effective support network.”
Jenna agreed: “We’re often found at community events, such as our housing surgeries that we run for Yeovilton-based families. They are very popular and by working with Amey, DIO and both chains of command, housing issues are being addressed and families are generally happier. Like anywhere, there are local challenges that military families face – from faulty streetlights to accessing local services – and that’s where Pete and I can help. And if we can’t, then we’ll know someone who can!”