Chairman Simon Parker (second from right) with local councillor Mark Booth (centre) and veterans in the Wirral Joint Services Club. Image: Wirral Joint Services Club
A spirited group of veterans are going above and beyond to help people in their community during the cost of living crisis.
The Wirral Joint Service Club, run voluntarily by former armed forces chef Simon Parker, is a lifeline for struggling veterans and frontline workers in Merseyside.
Parker, 33, took on an old RAF social club in Wallasey Village earlier this year and transformed it into a vibrant community hub. It is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so if anyone has any issues in the middle of the night, needs food or is worrying about bills, the club is there to help.
There is a food bank, open to veterans and anyone else in the community who needs it. The small team runs a warm bank too, where guests can come and enjoy the building’s comforts and warmth with free coffee and food.
As the cost of living crisis escalates, people are increasingly desperate for help and the club is getting busier by the week. The Royal British Legion has seen a 20 per cent increase in the number of veterans asking for help with food and housing costs over the last 12 months.
“It’s a struggle for everyone,” says Parker, who spent 15 years as a chef in the forces. “We’re becoming extremely busy with the food bank, but I think a lot of veterans don’t want to talk about it. That’s what we’re trying to get out at the moment – that they can come to us.
“We are a one-stop shop, and whatever they say to us isn’t going to go anywhere else unless it has to. If they’re coming to us with any financial issues or they can’t afford to put the heating on, that’s confidential. We will support them as much as we possibly can.”
While councils across the country have opened warm banks, and there are already thousands of food banks, the Wirral Joint Service Club is a more welcoming space for veterans.
“The cost of living is going up and the councils have got this amazing idea of warm hubs,” Parker adds, “but the warm hubs they’ve set up are in town halls and community centres. A lot of people we support won’t go and sit in a town hall full of kids.
“A lot have complex mental health needs and that’s just something they’re not going to do. We decided that even without the support of the local council that we would just open our doors and we would take the hit on payments ourselves.”
Parker says there have been more people coming in to use the building in recent weeks. “They’ve not really told us that they’re there for the warm bank, but you can often tell. We have the regulars who come in every night to watch the TV with us, but that’s because they can’t afford a TV licence or to turn the TV on.”
It’s a small community effort. There’s Parker, two other trustees, and a treasurer, all of whom work voluntarily. The only paid staff are the two bar workers.
“Charities out there are fantastic,” Parker says, “but there are hoops that people need to jump through to get support. It can take months with some larger organisations to get the support they need. It’s assessment after assessment. We’re not that big. The support we’re getting is coming from what we make across the bar and from the local community.”
The club also offers mental health support, employment advice and CV writing sessions. It is also, perhaps before anything else, a social space where veterans come together and drink and share tales of their past lives in service.
“A lot of veterans feel that they took their time for their country,” Parker says. “A lot of them have been on operational tours, or have done things that haven’t been in the news or broadcast by the military. A lot of them can’t work because of injuries. They have complex needs and require support, and they’re expected to live on buttons.”
Parker feels the government could do more to make sure veterans are looked after when they leave service, to prevent them ever reaching a point where they need emergency support from a charity. Still, Parker has so much pride in the work done at the Wirral Joint Service Club.
“It’s a community of supporters,” he says. “There are people who aren’t related to the armed forces who are coming to the club to use the bar, watch the football, and coming in on family days just because they know the money they put in the till is helping veterans in the local community. To me, that is massive.
“They don’t know our story until they come in and speak to a couple of us, when they do, they want to help. They want to arrange auctions or arrange events for the veterans. That’s what this building is there for.”
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