One hundred years ago the West Midlands was a very different place. Our industrial heartland had been transformed into munitions factories and hospitals. Women were in work, often for the first time, whilst men fought in unknown countries for a war they didn’t quite understand. Many of them didn’t return.
Of the ones who did, many were scarred physically, others mentally. Our communities had to rebuild themselves and people had to get on with it; there was no other choice.
War is the same in any era, service men and women make incredible sacrifices and then have to make a difficult transition back into civilian life. The 76,000 veterans living in the West Midlands now will have had to make that move back.
This week I have announced that we will help with that often difficult transition. My successful Mayor’s Mentors programme currently supports 1300 young people. We are going to offer this programme to members of the armed forces moving back to civilian life. Mayor’s Mentors for Veterans will recruit business mentors to support individuals for 12 months, providing much needed friendship, ideas and contacts to help with the journey back into the wider workplace.
We know this is needed because of the well known “veteran employment gap”. Working age veterans are nearly twice as likely to be unemployed as their equivalents in the UK general population. It is estimated that there are some 120,000 veterans who are unemployed nationwide. It is up to people like me who have the ability to make a difference to try and do something about this.
That’s why I’m pleased that we are also starting a new programme of using the skills veterans have – in teamwork and leadership – and applying them to our further education and training colleges. Many colleges struggle to recruit sufficient numbers of teachers and trainers with the right expertise to teach construction. This scheme will enable veterans to become trainers in construction skills, vital for our region’s future.
Remembrance Sunday is about two things: remembering and giving back. To help residents of the West Midlands do both, I am also pleased to have launched a commemorative Swift card (our version of the Oyster card) last week. It includes a donation to the Royal British Legion so people can carry something to remember those who have served for us, and also give to a charity which does so much for veterans today.
On the theme of remembering, in the West Midlands is the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas. In the future I am hopeful we will be able to get a direct rail line from Birmingham through Lichfield to a new station serving the National Memorial Arboretum. For now I want to make sure that this dedicated national space is somewhere where anyone who wants to pay respects to their serving ancestors is able to.
This is not currently the case for the Caribbean community. 16,000 men of the British West Indies Regiment served with the Allied forces in Passchendaele, Ypres and Poelcappelle yet there is no permanent memorial for them at the Arboretum. I am working with the local Caribbean community in their effort to raise funds for this important monument, vital to make sure we can preserve the memory of those who fell for our freedom and security.
Let’s use this Sunday as an opportunity to remember and give back. It is important that we continue to build understanding of the sacrifices made by so many people, of all backgrounds, whilst serving our country.