There are an increasing number of Drop-In locations around the UK which support veterans of the Armed Forces, merchant marine, emergency services and their families. Often called Hubs or Centres, between them they offer their Service Users (SUs) social interaction, general welfare (eg legal, financial, housing and employment advice) and wellbeing, including mental health support. This takes place routinely under one roof, all at the same time and in an informal, relaxed environment. The Association of ex-Service Drop-In Centres (ASDIC) network aims to link these Drop-Ins together for their mutual benefit and make them more accessible to SUs. It should be noted that there is also a network of ex-Service Breakfast Clubs; these tend to be more social than welfare oriented, but some locations fall into both categories. Whatever the title, benefit to the overall well-being of the SU remains paramount.
ASDIC is strongly supported by the Confederation of Service Charities (Cobseo), and funded by the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust (AFCT). It is a Charitable Company Limited by Guarantee, and registered with the Charity Commission. ASDIC is not a regulatory body, but all members are expected to follow a common ethos as described in the Code of Conduct and sign the ASDIC Membership Application and Agreement. However, ASDIC does not seek to take away the independence of Drop-In but rather to empower it by harnessing collective knowledge and experience and broadcasting examples of best practice and initiatives.
ASDIC is modelled on a regional structure. There are presently 20 regions, each with a volunteer Regional Coordinator (RC), and all liaising through the Regional Director. RCs use their own experience and initiative to monitor other Centres within their region, offering advice, support and guidance particularly to newly established locations. They also liaise with a wide range of support organisations within their region, and channel relevant information which helps to provide a regional and national picture of veterans’ needs.
It might be sensible, particularly for the uninitiated, to begin by exploring the fundamental and philosophical ethos of ASDIC and the Drop-In community, and how this differs from the standard and more formal basis of other major Armed Forces charities. Essentially ASDIC is not based on the standard top-down military model, with a powerful HQ laying down a framework of policies, rules and regulations to which descending layers of authority conform. At the risk of sounding slightly anarchic, the USP of ASDIC is that the Association itself is non-regulatory – the network is self-regulatory, run by the community and for the community, and largely policed by its own people who are passionate to pursue its success for the greater good of vulnerable veterans.
ASDIC’s mission statement states that it….
….will work to maximise the sustainability, resilience, effectiveness and delivery of Drop-In Centres and improve liaison with Breakfast Clubs across the United Kingdom to ensure that all vulnerable veterans receive swift and empathetic support, and that their needs are appreciated at higher levels.
In practical terms, this translates as providing advice, promoting best practice, stimulating communication and conversation, and giving a moderated consensual voice directly from the coalface of the community to the national veterans’ picture at Cobseo or OVA (Office of Veterans Affairs) level. What it does not do is regulate the affairs of each individual Drop-In, where leaders are expected to be cognisant of the need for good governance and financial and social probity in all aspects. Nonetheless, ASDIC will be glad to offer guidance and experience of best practice when required. Centres are asked to agree a Code of Conduct which outlines these qualities, but they are then expected to police themselves on the understanding that failure may bring their community into disrepute. It is thought that this is a far better carrot than any quasi-judicial stick could provide.
For ASDIC itself, there is clearly some degree of reputational risk in such a volunteer-led framework, but for an organisation which exists to promote ex-Service comradeship and self-imposed standards, and prides itself on lean management and minimal oversight, this is considered acceptable. It is strongly believed that it is this approach that sets ASDIC aside from the more formal framework of ex-Service organisations but is exactly what makes it attractive to the service-leaver or veteran who maintains a huge amount of personal pride and dignity, but who has perhaps lost the self-confidence to deal with perceived authority.
All Drop-Ins extend a warm welcome with refreshments, some offer general welfare support such as housing and employment advice, some have activities to promote wellbeing, and some provide access to mental health support. This routinely takes place under one roof, at the same time and in an informal environment. ASDIC aims to link all these Drop-Ins together so that they can offer each other mutual support and make them more accessible to those seeking help.
Drop-Ins vary hugely in their modus operandi and no two function in exactly the same way: some are very small, some more like a one-stop-shop, but all serve the same overall purpose of helping the ex-military (and sometimes wider) community in need. ASDIC Drop-Ins are open at least once a month and will be supported and attended by local organisations or representatives of national bodies to serve the needs of individuals. These may include the likes of SSAFA, the Royal British Legion and other recognised Service charities, a selection of health and welfare organisations such as the NHS, Citizens’ Advice Bureau, Legal, DWP or local council services, and many individual – often local – organisations offering activities for the enhancement of general wellbeing and a sense of belonging. There are over 120 Drop-Ins operating in the UK at present and the number joining ASDIC as members is steadily increasing.
ASDIC Regional Structure
The principal objective of ASDIC is to help Drop-Ins work together and support each other, so that they can improve what they offer and become more accessible. A secondary objective is to make it easier for state, charity and third sector organisations to support Drop-Ins, thereby helping them to work together more effectively and make the most of their resources. To enable the most coordinated approach, and to take account of local practices and procedures, ASDIC has 20 volunteer Regional Coordinators who are the immediate points of contact in their regions and provide feedback to the ASDIC Management Team for action as required. The structure and boundaries of these regions can be seen on a Map of the UK.
ASDIC Membership Benefits
The benefits of ASDIC membership include:
- *Use of the ASDIC membership brand, including the logo, giving national credibility and status within Cobseo and the wider Armed Forces welfare community.
- Dedicated presence on the ASDIC website to promote the member’s Drop-In.
- Mutual support from other Drop-Ins and the Regional Coordinators to offer advice and mentoring, and to stimulate best practice.
- Facility to share relevant codes of practice, governance, conduct, outcome measurement and performance standards.
- Conferences and/or regional meetings to share ideas with other members for mutual benefit.
- Access to the members’ section of the website (presently under development).
- Cross-referral when a Drop-In is unable to address the particular needs of an Service User or when another Drop-In may be more convenient for an Service User to attend.
- Contact information and details about the support organisations attending Drop-Ins and the specific services they provide.
- Demonstrable collaboration when applying for funding from grants and trusts.
- The ability to provide data to compile a more comprehensive national picture of veterans’ welfare and needs for the benefit of the whole community.
*Prospective members may enjoy the benefits of ASDIC membership but should not use the ASDIC brand, including the logo, until they are full members.
ASDIC operates both tactically and strategically across the whole of the UK. It covers all Services, all ranks, both serving and former, and deals with any reasonable welfare and/or social need. These wide responsibilities reflect a special and valuable position shared with only a few other organisations in the veterans welfare sector, and with the Confederation of Service Charities (Cobseo), the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust (AFCT), Veterans Gateway, Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT) and the Veterans Advisory Pension Committees (VAPCs). Close relationships with these organisations are therefore vital for ASDIC in developing the UK wide picture of need from our experience of all issues at the coalface.
At the strategic level, and given the very important links with Veterans Gateway (a good way to access Gateway is via the App which you can download on your smartphone) and the Map of Need, ASDIC promotes regular liaison by supplying vital information on our member Drop-Ins and their contact and operating information for inclusion on these websites. This information is then used by the Veterans Gateway helpdesk for signposting, and directly by veterans themselves when searching for help online, or by using the App.
ASDIC also maintains informal liaison at both the national and local levels with a wide matrix of all organisations which can offer assistance to veterans in need. These obviously include the large number of Armed Forces charities but also local authorities, NHS services, Citizens’ Advice Bureaux, and many others. Regional Coordinators are encouraged to build and maintain their own lists of, and liaisons with, local assistance bodies, and these close links can often facilitate more rapid provision of relief.
The UK also has a vibrant grouping of ex-Service Breakfast Clubs. These are not wholly dissimilar from Drop-Ins but tend to concentrate more on sociability and comradeship than making direct links with external welfare organisations. However, there is often some degree of overlap in operation, and ASDIC maintains a good liaison with their opposite numbers in the Breakfast Club community.