Dame Caroline Dinenage, Member of Parliament for Gosport, has hosted the Minister of State for Veterans Affairs, the Rt. Hon. Johnny Mercer MP, in Gosport to meet with a number of veterans run businesses and support organisations.

Caroline and Johnny visited FirstLight Trust, who provide a café hub for the veteran community giving a safe space to socialise and build a network with other veterans. They have hubs in a number of locations, including Gosport High Street.

Finally, Caroline and the Minister met with a number of veteran-run businesses in the FirstLight Trust Café, of which Gosport has so many. Some of these included: Explorer Coffees, Powder Monkey, Solent Mobility, RE5 Customs, Port and Lemon & Tin Trousers. This gave the Minister the opportunity to learn about some of the challenges and barriers to entry of leaving the Armed Forces and starting businesses. He also met with Climb2Recovery who provides climbing courses for veterans, improving physical and mental well-being alongside Shore Leave Haslar who offer veterans an opportunity to come together and rehabilitate through horticulture.

In the Autumn Statement this week, the Chancellor announced an additional £10 million to support the Veterans’ Places, People and Pathways Programme (VPPP) to increase support to a significant community of vulnerable veterans throughout the UK and enable it to become self-sustaining.

The VPPP Programme awards grants to organisations across the UK working regionally to develop better, more joined up lasting support for local veterans with mental health needs. The funding will be administered via the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust.

Commenting after the visit, Caroline said: “As we know, Gosport has the highest proportion of Veterans compared to any other constituency in England and Wales. It is so important that the Veterans’ Minister comes and visits some of our veteran community to hear about the challenges they have faced, and how government can help.

“Johnny’s goal is to make the UK the best place in the world to be a Veteran. I am glad that a number of veteran-run businesses and support organisations in Gosport have had the chance to share their experiences to help make this goal a reality.”

 Veterans’ Minister Johnny Mercer said: “Gosport does so much for the veteran community nationally, which is why I was delighted to meet a number of local organisations who carry out vital work to support this thriving veteran community as well as a number of leading veteran businesses.

“During my visit I was proud to speak of the additional £10 million funding I secured in the Autumn Statement to foster collaboration between charities and service providers, and improve support for veterans.”

Dorinda Wolfe Murray, CEO of FirstLight Trust: “FirstLight Trust in Gosport leads the way in how veterans can be supported into living a meaningful, enjoyable life within their communities, through targeted case work, a meaningful programme of activities and the support and encouragement of those within their local community.

“I am delighted that Caroline has brought the Minister of State for Office of Veterans Affairs to see and support the work we do, at the front line of veteran ‘need’.  In particular, around our work in preventing homelessness, supporting partners and families and reducing loneliness and isolation.  FirstLight’s hospitality in the cake and coffee field is legendary – as are the quiz nights and Christmas dinners.  Perhaps the OVA should consider fielding a team??”

Neil Hallsworth Director Explorer Coffees said:

“It’s been an ideal time to discuss opportunities for Veterans starting and running businesses, at a similar scale to Explorer Coffees, and exchanging ideas on how the Ministry can support Veteran Owned Companies into the future.”

Joe Winch, Climb2Recovery said: “Climb 2 Recovery is a wonderful community of friends, who have fun and laugh together; we accept people regardless of ability, disability or adversity; we have regular and great adventures; and climbing affords us valuable respite, time to heal and to find a healthier perspective and outlook.

“This is why Climb 2 Recovery is so unique and our members so frequently describe their experience with us as transformative or life- changing. It’s also why I am so proud to have the opportunity to share our story with Minister of State for Veterans’ Affairs, Johnny Mercer MP, and Dame Caroline Dinenage MP.”