22nd March 2018 Michael Fahy

Poppyscotland’s newest welfare centre, The MacRobert Centre, which will serve the near-40,000 members of the Armed Forces community living in and around Ayrshire, was officially opened by Air Marshal Stuart Atha today (Wednesday, 21st March 2018).

Air Marshal Atha, 55, who is the Deputy Commander Operations and was born just a few miles away from the new Poppyscotland Ayrshire Welfare Centre, in Kilmarnock, was joined by The MacRobert Trust’s Chairman (Elect), local dignitaries, fellow members of the Armed Forces, veterans and the charity’s Chief Executive, Mark Bibbey.

The West of Scotland has enjoyed close links with the Armed Forces for many years. Around 37,000 individuals who have served or are still serving, and their families live in the area, and now, thanks to generous funding from both The MacRobert Trust and LIBOR, Poppyscotland has opened this specialist support and advice centre in Kilmarnock to provide one-to-one local contact.

Commenting on the opening, Air Marshal Atha said: “As someone brought up in Kilmarnock and a member of the Armed Forces, it is a great privilege to open Poppyscotland Ayrshire. The challenges facing those who serve, and those who have served, have resulted in increasing numbers reaching out in their time of need. The team working at The MacRobert Centre will meet that need by delivering joined up support in one location.”

Poppyscotland Chief Executive Mark Bibbey added: “We are delighted to have opened our second Welfare Centre in Kilmarnock. Ayrshire is home to many members of Scotland’s Armed Forces community and we look forward to delivering a holistic service to help those who are in need of not only our support, but also that of our sister charities and statutory organisations.

“We have already formed strong partnerships with many organisations and are very grateful for the warmth of the welcome that we have received. Working collaboratively with our partners will ensure that we deliver the best possible support to those who have made significant sacrifices.”

The MacRobert Trust’s Chief Executive, Rear Admiral Chris Hockley, said: “The MacRobert Trust’s strong connections with military personnel and their ultimate well-being is well known and we are therefore delighted to be so formally associated with this excellent initiative that we hope will make finding advice and help so much easier and less stressful.”

Gary Gray, Head of Welfare at Poppyscotland, said that he hoped the Welfare Centre in Ayrshire would mirror the success of a similar venture launched by the charity in Inverness five years ago. Mr Gray explained: “Since opening in June 2013, almost 2,500 people have accessed the Inverness Welfare Centre for general information and guidance, while a further 329 clients – all with multiple needs – have benefited from direct one-to-one support and guidance. Support is available across a range of areas, including finances, housing, mental and physical health, and employment. The majority of clients have been under 60 (85 per cent), with most being aged 35 to 59.

“The Centre also runs extremely popular drop-ins for veterans where they can meet up and get support from each other as well as staff. Local ‘outings’ are also arranged, giving veterans the opportunity to socialise and build up support networks. In addition to direct work with clients, the Centre participates in local networks to support the Armed Forces community, working in partnership with a range of military and civilian organisations from both the statutory and non-statutory sectors. These have included SSAFA, CAB, Combat Stress and Veterans’ First Point.”

Joining Air Marshal Atha at the event were representatives of The MacRobert Trust, all three of Ayrshire’s Provosts, councillors, healthcare workers, members of the Police and representatives from other charities. The Centre opened its doors to the public on the 9th of October last year thanks to generous grants from The MacRobert Trust and HM Treasury, which enabled the premises to be secured and subsequently fitted out. The grant from HM Treasury was funded by the Chancellor using LIBOR funds.