Hawick cafe hub raffle - founder Dorinda Wolfe Murray and Councillor John Greenwell

A winning Christmas for charity’s Hawick cafe hub

Christmas came early for a handful of FirstLight Trust Hawick cafe hub patrons when the annual fundraising raffle was drawn this week.

Scottish Borders Council’s Armed Forces and Veterans Champion Councillor John Greenwell visited the charity on Monday to draw the raffle and chat to veterans and staff about the great work being done to support military and blue light veterans in the Borders.

Prizes included a superb hamper full of seasonal goodies, a Christmas cake baked and decorated by FirstLight Trust cook Wendy, a sock monkey handmade in the Borders by Sew Loved Sock Monkeys, two £10 vouchers donated by Lindsay Grieve Butchers, a FirstLight cafe voucher for coffee and cake for two and various other prizes.

Councillor Greenwell commented:

“I was delighted to be asked to draw the raffle for FirstLight Trust. The charity does great work in Hawick and the Borders as a whole, supporting our military and blue light veterans.

 “I would like to congratulate the prize winners and wish everyone involved with FirstLight Trust a very Happy Christmas and best wishes for 2020.”

Dorinda Wolfe Murray, founder of FirstLight Trust added:

“I am very grateful to Councillor Greenwell for taking time out of his busy schedule to come and draw the raffle for us.

“I’d also like to thank all those who bought raffle tickets and contributed prizes. We managed to raise around £100 which will go directly towards helping our veterans.

“This was an incredibly busy year for FirstLight Trust and it is thanks to donations and contributions from our generous supporters that we will be able to continue with the work we are doing here in Hawick and the Borders.”

Everyone, including well-behaved dogs, is welcome at FirstLight Trust’s Hawick cafe hub at 1-3 High Street to enjoy a hot beverage or some delicious home baking. They also accept donations of books, clothing and bric-a-brac to sell in the cafe hub.

In the photo: Councillor John Greenwell, Armed Forces and Veterans Champion and Dorinda Wolfe Murray, founder of FirstLight Trust drawing the raffle in Hawick this week.

Christmas dessert in a restaurant - copyright Aubaine

Christmas cheer on the menu for homeless veterans

In this most festive of months, a group of French restaurants is encouraging their guests to help homeless veterans by donating £1 when they dine. Aubaine runs six restaurants and a deli concept across London and even in Dubai. They have teamed up with leading veterans’ charity FirstLight Trust to ensure those that served in the armed forces or emergency services have a roof over their heads.

“At Aubaine, we have always been proud to demonstrate our core values and uphold our social responsibility by collaborating with great charitable organisations,” says Aubaine’s founder and CEO Hani Nakkach. “Our goal in working with FirstLight Trust is to raise awareness and vital funds to support UK veterans of the armed forces and emergency services.”

FirstLight Trust finds housing for veterans who are on the streets, or on the verge of being made homeless. Securing their place on the GlobalGiving donations platform this autumn has led to some notable successes. They helped a 29-year old homeless veteran in Hereford with food and a week-long stay in a B&B whilst they arranged permanent housing. FirstLight Trust also secured accommodation in Liverpool for a homeless veteran in Lancaster, with help from two other charities.

“We are very grateful to Aubaine and their customers for getting in the Christmas spirit and giving us their support,” says Dorinda Wolfe Murray, the founder of FirstLight Trust. “Every pound donated will go towards giving practical help to former members of the military and blue light services. Aubaine offers fresh, honest food. We offer fresh, honest support. This partnership really is a match made in Father Christmas’s workshop!”

FirstLight Trust runs charity cafe hubs in Gosport, Hawick, Hereford, Lancaster, Redcar and Scarborough open to veterans and the public alike.

Aubaine has establishments in Brompton Road, Kensington, Marylebone, Mayfair, Notting Hill, London Selfridges, Covent Garden and The Dubai Mall.

Prince Charles at Hawick veterans cafe hub - copyright ILM Imaging

Prince Charles chats to Hawick veterans in surprise visit

One veterans’ charity in Hawick received a welcome visit earlier this month when Prince Charles popped in for a visit. On 1 November His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, known as the Duke of Rothesay when in Scotland, took a tour of the town. This included Sharpe’s, the cafe hub of FirstLight Trust open to veterans and the public alike.

“I spoke to Prince Charles, who I’d met on several occasions. He was a perfect gentleman, mingling with the veterans and others there,” says one veteran. “He spoke at length with me, even cracking a joke about one of our previous meetings, and seemed genuinely interested in the hub and the users.”

The duke has a strong connection with the armed forces. While at Cambridge University he received flying instruction from the Royal Air Force. He then trained at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, followed by service on the guided missile destroyer HMS Norfolk and two frigates. Qualifying as a helicopter pilot, the duke joined 845 Naval Air Squadron, which operated from the Commando carrier HMS Hermes. In 1976, the Duke of Rothesay took command of the coastal minehunter HMS Bronington for his last nine months in the Navy.

 “It was such an honour for us to be visited by His Royal Highness,” adds Dorinda Wolfe Murray, the founder of FirstLight Trust. “He spoke to all the veterans who were in the cafe and to our colleagues who work so hard to create such a great atmosphere. There was lots of banter and laughter, which echoes what we encourage within the hub.  He also enjoyed some of our tea loaf. Sadly he didn’t have time for a coffee but he’s always welcome next time he comes to The Borders!”

Hawick’s FirstLight Trust cafe hub is open Monday to Saturday 9am – 5pm at 1-3 High Street Hawick TD9 9BZ and is open to veterans and the public alike. Well-behaved dogs on leads are also welcome.

Veteran suicide - play raises money and awareness

Coronation Street star’s play raises money to tackle veteran suicide

A one-woman show written by Coronation Street and Downton Abbey actor Christine Mackie has focused the spotlight on the issue of veteran suicide, wowed critics and helped raise money for charity. Best Girl is a true family affair as it is performed by Christine’s daughter, actor Lois Mackie. The play highlights the issue of veteran suicide and the devastating impact it has on their loved ones. Christine’s father, a World War II veteran, took his own life when she was just a child, leaving her with trauma she couldn’t process for years. After having her own children, Christine sought professional help to deal with her grief and how to talk to her daughters about it.

It was first performed at this year’s Greater Manchester Fringe and then at the Edinburgh Fringe. Best Girl Productions were keen to support charities through ticket sales and audience member donations. One of these was leading veterans’ charity FirstLight Trust.

“Lois and I are so happy that Best Girl was able to give a total of £1000 to FirstLight Trust,” says Christine. “The work it does is truly inspiring, and we were so grateful for their support during this adventure, helping publicising the play. It was also great to perform in front of their veterans from their Hawick cafe hub who visited us in Edinburgh. Doing the show was a brilliantly positive experience and handing over this much money is the icing on the cake!”

FirstLight Trust works to rehabilitate those leaving and those who have left the Armed Forces and Emergency Services back into their communities. They focus on practical, community-based solutions to address problems caused by isolation and mental health issues. FirstLight Trust also tackles the ‘invisible’ injuries of mental health such as PTSD and anxiety, and the misunderstanding that come with this.

“Significant parallels can be drawn between the crucial work FirstLight Trust does to support veterans, and the various themes accurately portrayed in this brilliant production,” says charity founder Dorinda Wolfe Murray. “We are extremely thankful to the generous audience members and to the Best Girl team for this donation. Every penny will go towards supporting veterans and their loved ones suffering from various forms of trauma.”

Best Girl was highly recommended by The Edinburgh Fringe Review and was nominated for Best Actor and Best Drama in the Greater Manchester Fringe Awards. It is playing at The Dukes Theatre in Lancaster next year on the 9th, 10th and 11th April and at Oldham Coliseum Studio on the 16th and 17th April 2020.

In support of veterans - running the Royal Parks Half

Running the Royal Parks Half in support of veterans

The eleventh Royal Parks Half Marathon took place earlier this month across four of London’s beautiful Royal Parks. The race is presented by the Royal Bank of Canada, sponsored by Lululemon and has over 16,000 participants. Leading veterans’ charity, FirstLight Trust, had three runners taking part for the first time this year, one of whom is their own Rose Bradbury.

 “The race route is incredibly picturesque,” explains Rose. “It was so lovely to take in the amazing scenery whilst I was running, particularly with the autumnal colours scattered across the Royal Parks. The landmarks also made great check points to aim for.”

The race started in Hyde Park then went through Green Park and St James’s Park with fleeting visits to Downing Street, Somerset House and Trafalgar Square. The route continued through Admiralty Arch and along the Mall to Buckingham Palace, with runners once again picking up Green Park. They then made their way through Wellington Arch back to Hyde Park and along the spiralling paths of Kensington Gardens.

“Between us we raised close to £1,000 for FirstLight Trust,” adds Rose. “It’s a terrific event, with plenty of fun activities for spectators as well as runners, and raising money for a fantastic charity made the day even better.”

FirstLight Trust have plans to register for upcoming racing events around the UK. Details will be posted on their social media channels – @firstlighttrust on Twitter and Facebook – with information on how those who would like to support veterans can sign up.

“It is always brilliant when we have people fund raising for us – it gives the whole charity a real buzz,” explains FirstLight Trust’s founder, Dorinda Wolfe Murray. “I am so grateful to Rose. We are coming into our busiest and most challenging time of year with many veterans finding it difficult to deal with Remembrance and Christmas. Donations really make all the difference in our work supporting veterans through the tough winter months.”

Fundraisers who would like to raise money for FirstLight Trust can set up their own fundraising page following this link: https://www.globalgiving.org/dy/v2/fundraisers/start/?fundraiser.projids=41526

Hands holding a mug to support preventing homelessness campaign

A sweet surprise for veterans’ charity

Following a challenging three-week crowd funding campaign and a show-stopping Bake Off, FirstLight Trust has earned a permanent position on the GlobalGiving platform. Almost £3,000 across the charity was raised for FirstLight Trust’s project on preventing homelessness in UK veterans through their incredible supporters, but the £4,000 online target was not achieved in time. GlobalGiving, however, having witnessed the hard work and determination demonstrated by the FirstLight team across their six hubs, offered them a place regardless.

“The GlobalGiving platform gave us an opportunity to involve the whole charity in a fun and high-profile way,” explains FirstLight Trust’s founder, Dorinda Wolfe Murray. “It brought the whole charity together for a common cause that enabled those colleagues who genuinely are our often unsung heroes (the hub assistants) to shine whilst enjoying themselves and raising our profile.”

“GlobalGiving is a brilliant community to be part of because they really want you to succeed,” adds FirstLight Trust’s Operations and Project Coordinator, Rose Bradbury. “Not only is there the potential to make significant connections with new donors, but GlobalGiving offers a full range of tools and training that help charities to grow and develop their fundraising strategies.”

FirstLight Trust’s project on preventing homelessness in UK veterans will continue to be available on their GlobalGiving page. Homelessness is a pressing issue that FirstLight Trust support workers face all year round. In the winter months, the issue is becoming much more prevalent and support is needed more than ever.

If you are interested in supporting this cause you can visit FirstLight Trust’s project page on GlobalGiving or one of their six hubs for more information: https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/preventing-homelessness-for-veterans/.

Soldier 30:30 Exmoor challenge in aid of veterans

Going extreme on Exmoor to help veterans

Extreme challenge competitors from across the globe take on a gruelling Exmoor race later this month to help ex-service men and women of the military and emergency services. Soldier 30:30 sees teams racing 30 miles or 30 km carrying a 30lb pack to raise money for veterans’ charity FirstLight Trust. The charity runs support hubs across the country to help veterans struggling with issues such as debt, homelessness, loneliness and red tape.

Two of the teams are from Bristol-based data and technology specialists Techmodal. They are one of only 20 businesses in the South West to receive a Silver Defence Employer Recognition Award this year for the support they provide to Armed Forces Reservists and veterans. They are aiming to raise £2,000 in sponsorship.

“Fundraising for FirstLight Trust is an opportunity for us to give back to those who have served in the armed forces and emergency services,” explains Katie Holmes, Senior Consultant. “They run some fantastic initiatives to help former veterans get back on their feet and find a sense of belonging when settling into civilian life. We’ve been training hard over the summer to make sure we’re prepared for everything Exmoor can throw at us.”

Meanwhile Procurement and Transformation Consultancy Retearn from Berkshire are fielding a team of six consultants with the aim of raising as much money as possible in sponsorship.

“The training for Soldier 30:30 has been tougher that I thought,” says Retearn team member Mark Wyllie, Chief Executive. “But it’s nothing compared to former veterans who have fallen through the net and are coping everyday with the isolation caused by PTSD or depression. We’ve been honoured to work on several projects in a variety of Ministry of Defence operations. It was therefore really important for us to give back via FirstLight Trust to support those who have spent their career protecting us.”

Soldier 30:30 says entrants must be physically fit and willing to test themselves against both terrain and weather through manned checkpoints.

“This is the second year Soldier 30:30 has designated us as their charity, and we’re honoured that teams like Techmodal and Retearn are taking up the challenge,” says Dorinda Wolfe Murray, founder of FirstLight Trust. “2018 was particularly tough as the runners had to battle through Storm Callum, so we’re hoping the weather will be kinder this year!”

Soldier 30:30 begins on 12 October.

Donations to Team Techmodal can be made at: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/techmodal-fundraiser-soldier3030

The Retearn team are collecting online donations through: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/retearndoessolider3030

Tomorrow film - still of two soldiers in Afghanistan

Feature film ‘Tomorrow’ puts PTSD and veterans in the spotlight

A star-studded feature film about a veteran injured in Afghanistan hits cinemas this Friday. Stephen Fry and Joss Stone are among the cast of Tomorrow which explores how friendship, love and courage can overcome great odds. The film has teamed up with charities which deal with the sensitive issues it covers, including veterans’ charity FirstLight Trust which runs veteran cafe hubs across the UK.

“The Tomorrow team approached us as they’re passionate about supporting veterans – and passionate about good coffee too which makes us the perfect match!” explains FirstLight Trust’s founder Dorinda Wolfe Murray. “The film is exceptional. It’s about prejudice and miscommunication. It’s about the power of empathy, understanding and love. But most of all Tomorrow is about the courage – the everyday courage that keeps us going – which we see all the time in our work with veterans.”

“We’re very proud to be supporting FirstLight Trust,” says writer, actor and producer Stuart Brennan. “After visiting their cafe hubs, it is obvious the work they are doing is not just important, but essential. The themes and issues that our movie Tomorrow deals with will hopefully encourage attention and public engagement in these areas, increasing support and awareness for FirstLight Trust.”

Executive produced by Martin Scorsese, Tomorrow explores the difficulty and loneliness soldiers encounter as they try to reintegrate back into society having served their country. It deals with moving on from losses and injuries to forge a life, find sustaining work and experience love. Tomorrow has already won the Audience and Jury Award at the Napa Film Festival, Best Narrative Feature at the Savannah Film Festival and the Jury Award at the Sunscreen Film Festival.

Dorinda adds: “The movie is fictional, but the issues are real and we’re incredibly grateful to be beneficiaries of Monday’s sold-out charity Leicester Square premiere in London. The Tomorrow team have also created mini-videos blending film clips with interviews with our veterans in our cafe hubs to highlight where characters like Tesla can find support and camaraderie in real life. Seeing veterans realistically depicted on the big screen is a huge boost to those that served. We wish Tomorrow every success.”

Tomorrow will be shown at cinemas in Bristol, Camberley, Edinburgh, Leeds, London, Portsmouth from 27 September as well as Forces Cinema screenings in Cyprus and the Falklands plus venues across the UK. A full list is available at: https://www.tomorrowfilm.uk/tomorrow-film-screenings

Ten mini-videos blending film clips and interviews with real-life FirstLight Trust veterans and cafe hub coordinators can be viewed on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCfEaqUMQUVhEnM66sBOMFQ/

Cakes illustrating bake off to help homeless veterans

Baking up a storm to help homeless veterans

This month members of the public are being asked to judge a charity’s baking competition, both online and off. FirstLight Trust café hubs across the UK are taking part in a Bake Off inspired event on 18 September. Donations will be put towards the charity’s September crowdfunding campaign to raise £4,000 to help prevent homelessness in veterans.

“We’re here to support all those that served in the armed forces and emergency services,” explains Dorinda Wolfe Murray, the founder of FirstLight Trust. “This includes finding housing for veterans who are on the streets, or on the verge of being made homeless.

Our café hubs help raise money for this work as well as being a place where the public and veterans alike can relax over a cuppa and a slice of home-made cake. We’ve some amazing baking talent, so we thought a friendly competition would be a fun way to add to our fundraising total!”

A suggested donation of £5 per person buys a tasting platter featuring a slice of each cake, a hot drink and a judge’s score sheet. Votes will be counted and then announced in each hub at 3pm. This ‘showstopper’ will then be put forward to a public vote on the charity’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. The overall UK winner will be announced on the afternoon of 19 September. If the charity meets its £4,000 goal, it will allow them to use even more features of the online Global Giving donations platform.

“We’d love to have as many tasters as possible judging our cakes,” adds Dorinda. “From Victoria sponges to chocolate cake, carrot cake to lemon drizzle, we know our colleagues are already star bakers. So please pop down to your local hub on 18 September and give us your opinion and vote again through social media for the cake of cakes!

We also welcome whatever people can spare to help keep veterans from sleeping rough. Donations can be made in the hubs themselves or online at https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/preventing-homelessness-for-veterans/.”

Chairs on a stage representing veterans' homelessness play

Student play raises awareness of the plight of veterans

Budding young playwrights and actors from Southend Adult Community College recently staged a play to highlight the need to support veterans after they leave the military. Their hard-hitting drama ‘George and Lydia Get Evicted’ follows the story of a former soldier suffering from PTSD and who is unable to cope with civilian life.

The play was written by 16-year-old Ellie Mills, one of a class of 16 to 19 year olds studying Childcare, Health and Social Care, English and Maths. “I am so proud of this group’s achievements,” says English tutor Judith Williams. “They are young men and women who left school without any qualifications and are working hard to improve their chances of employment. The empathy, resilience and passion they displayed during the play’s rehearsal process resulted in some extremely powerful performances.”

During the course of the play George’s marriage breaks down and his wife ends up homeless on the streets. The armed forces and emergency services veterans charity FirstLight Trust hopes that in real-life the family would get in contact with them. They help those who served who suffer from depression, anxiety, Post Traumatic Street Disorder (PTSD) and other mental health issues.

“It is a fairly brutal play but all too true,” says Dorinda Wolfe Murray, founder of FirstLight Trust. “However it gives us hope that these amazing students are drawing attention to the needs of veterans. Also if they pursue careers in health and social care, we will have valuable allies who can help get our veterans what they need.”   

2019 Hizzy Memorial Run - motorcylist Steve Hislop in action

2019 Hizzy Memorial Run to help veterans in need

The 2019 Hizzy Memorial Run in the Scottish Borders will raise funds for veterans struggling with civilian life. On Sunday 25 August hundreds of motorcyclists will ride 150 miles in honour of former superbike champion and Hawick-born Steve ‘Hizzy’ Hislop.

“The local volunteers who help with the Memorial Run are asked to nominate charities to benefit from any money raised. We were put forward by one of our blue light veterans who is also a biker,” explains FirstLight Trust’s Hawick hub co-ordinator Caroline Brown. “We’re very grateful to be chosen, especially as we’ve only been here a year! Hawick is the charity’s first Scottish hub, joining five others across the UK. The public and veterans alike are welcome to pop into our relaxing High Street coffee bar.”

The event was started in 2003 by Alan Duffus Motorcycles. It’s now helped by Thos. B. Oliver garages where Steve served his apprenticeship and worked for eight years.

2019 is a particularly poignant year for the Run as it marks the 30th anniversary of Steve becoming the first ever rider to lap at over 120mph in the Isle of Man TT race. ‘Hizzy’ won the TT race eleven times and the British Superbike championship twice. He died in a helicopter accident in 2003 aged just 41 years old. The annual fundraising event is staged to keep Steve’s memory alive, attracting fellow racers such as Ian McVeighty and John McGuinness.

This year’s route starts in Denholm and takes in Cleikimin, Kelso, Coldstream, Duns and Gifford before stopping for lunch at Carfraemill. The riders then head to Heriot, Innerleithen, Selkirk and Hawick before returning to Denholm Green. Here riders and spectators can enjoy refreshments plus hear the raffle results, take part in the auction and find out who has won the Marshals Choice of machine Trophy.

“We’ll be at Denholm Green to greet the finishers,” adds Caroline. “Please say hello at our gazebo where you can buy some of our home-made treats and world-exclusive Sharpe’s merchandise, inspired by the soldier played by Sean Bean. All donations go towards helping former members of the armed forces and emergency services get back on track. This could be anything from dealing with red tape to just having someone to chat to. We never turn anyone away, we’re there for the long haul and there is no time limit on our support.”

Hawick’s FirstLight Trust hub is open Monday to Saturday 9am – 5pm at 1-3 High Street, Hawick TD9 9BZ containing Sharpe’s coffee bar serving hot drinks and home-made cakes.

For more details about the 17th Steve Hislop (Hizzy) Memorial Run please contact Wendy on 01450 870221 or email tboliver@btconnect.com

Hereford veterans hub - Lord Mayor, High Sheriff plus author Chris Ryan

New Hereford veterans hub is full of (Sean) beans

Hereford residents can now help a veteran by enjoying a cuppa. Last month the Sharpe’s establishment was officially opened by the High Sheriff of Herefordshire James Hervey-Bathurst Esq., CBE DL with the Lord Mayor of Hereford Councillor Kath Hey in attendance. This coffee bar is run by FirstLight Trust, a charity helping former members of the armed forces and emergency services adjust to civilian life. With delicious home-made cakes and coffees, Sharpe’s is a welcoming spot for the public and veterans of any rank or age.

“Many ex-military can feel isolated once they leave the forces or emergency services,” says Dorinda Wolfe Murray of FirstLight Trust. “So we run hubs which include coffee bars where veterans and civilians can relax. A warm welcome is guaranteed and every penny raised helps our work in giving back veterans pride and value.”

Sharpe’s on Broad Street is named after the Rifleman played on TV by Sean Bean. It offers exclusive coffee roasts, Yorkshire Tea and delicious home-baked treats such as scones and cakes. The Hereford hub is the charity’s newest, joining a network of support stretching from Scarborough to Lancaster, Gosport to Hawick. Events such as modelling clubs, book groups and quiz nights have already been well received by the local community.

The hub was only made possible by the generosity of a number of charitable trusts and foundations. The Utley Foundation provided funds towards renovations and the coffee machine.

Other vital renovations funds came from the Clive & Sylvia Richards Charity, Beatrice Laing Trust, E F Bulmer Benevolent Fund, The Rowlands Trust, and The Guyll-Lleng Charitable Trust. The Souter Charitable Trust and Eveson Charitable Trust provided funds towards a support worker.

 “We’ve been so grateful for the support of our donors, neighbours and fellow veteran charities and organisations,” adds Dorinda. “The cherry on the cake has been ex-SAS operative and best-selling author Chris Ryan posting on Instagram that we had “the best brew in Hereford.” We’d love to encourage as many Hereford locals as possible to follow in Chris’s footsteps and pop in to find out more!”

Sharpe’s can be found at 41-43 Broad Street, Hereford, HR4 9AR. It’s open Monday to Saturday 9am – 5pm. More details about our Hereford hub.