Whilst visiting amputee soldiers in Selly Oak Hospital in 2009/10 we made friends with a soldier, a triple amputee. We knew that 'Help For Heroes' were doing a fantastic job with amputees but nobody seemed to be concentrating on mental health problems. This was the start of our journey.
After many conversations with him and his father it became increasingly clear that there was no successful system in place which worked simultaneously for him, his family, his job and his sanity.
We started to think about a home where veterans and families could come and rest whilst we helped them.
Soon enough, Councillor Gordon Baxendale - Congleton West Army Champion - generously liaised with Cheshire East resulting in property being gifted to enable us to provide homes for those veterans.
In October 2012 the charity was formed.
It is almost impossible to imagine how frustrating veterans find it when trying to navigate the state system after fighting for their country. It is especially difficult if they are diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) as they have often become alienated from friends and family with no job waiting for them.
All these factors create a very slippery slope into homelessness.
That is why we are here for them - why we do what we do.
Since we opened our doors in 2012 we have given 87 ex-forces personnel a home and the offer of help they needed. Those we were able to help were willing to help themselves by initiating positive changes and by working to rid themselves of their addictions. Those we haven't yet been able to help are, in their own words, 'not ready'.
Following our dedicated work, numerous ex-forces personnel have moved into the local community and are now working full time. There are also those who live independently but still receive benefits and support whilst continuing with their counselling. In the LOL house we have one member who is working full time and awaiting a home for independent living. The other members at the house are all at different stages of their journey.
We house members for up to two years and it is because of this we are in dire need of more adequate housing. We are currently raising funds for our Lawton Street project so we will be able to house another eight members. We are dedicated to a continued focus on mental health and addiction issues.
We have found ourselves helping more and more with court appearances and reuniting ex-servicemen with their children. We work closely with children's services to ensure the children have a happy reunion. Quite often we find the children say that they see dad as looking the same but not acting the same. They ask questions like 'Why is daddy sleeping all day and not seeing his friends?'
We are very aware that the trauma is often passed around the whole family and that they ALL need support. Whilst we continue to offer our help, we do not receive any funding.
My son, Andrew Dolman Bayley volunteers many hours with court appearances and working alongside the children's services. We need help to raise money so we can help more families and so we can employ staff as outreach workers to continue supporting these families. We want to help prevent unnecessary emotional trauma so we can avoid family breakups, rough sleeping and the addictions that sometimes follow.
I am very proud of how The LOL Foundation has helped our boys over the last four years. It is sad though that some of them are not ready for change. We always let everyone know that when they are ready our door is always open. We have recently had two such members who did return and the difference in them both is heartwarming. Both members have made huge progress.
As with all charities and volunteer based organisations we have had our share of criticism -
'Why are you bringing ex-service personnel who have addiction issues into our town?'
'You are not registered with The Care Quality Commission (CQC) surely you can't be doing things right?'
We say to these people, 'Please come and visit us anytime and see the invaluable work that is being done. Our lads need positive support and understanding not negativity.'
We have fully qualified counsellors who work around the clock to support the lads and lasses. We work as a therapeutic community with the members living together as a family, it is here they find understanding which is the key ingredient so their healing process can begin.
LOL is not about sticking plasters on these issues, we work very hard to get to the core of the problem. Our goal is to help these lads and lasses lead a normal life.'
Jill & Andy Dolman - The LOL Foundation founders.