The Sovini Group is first housing group awarded Gold for supporting the Armed Forces

Sefton-based Sovini Group the Gold Award, their highest honour, in recognition for the Group’s outstanding support of the Armed Forces community.

The Sovini Group is the first housing group in the country to be awarded Gold since the scheme’s inception in 2014. The accolade follows their Bronze Award win in 2016 and the Silver Award in 2017.

The ERS recognises employers who actively support Reservists, Service leavers, wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women, the Cadet organisations and service families, as well as inspire other organisations to follow their lead.

The property management and development group has long standing relationships with the Armed Forces community. They work in close partnership with Army Reserve unit 156 Regiment RLC and local organisations, Liverpool’s Veterans HQ and Veterans in Sefton, providing ex-service personnel with housing, training and employment opportunities.

A recent initiative between The Sovini Group with Veterans HQ has led to six local veteran families being rehomed and saved from homelessness since the start of 2018.

The company offers a volunteer placement programme, which supports veterans with their transition from the Armed Forces into employment within civilian life. Some of those who took part in the programme have gone on to get jobs within the Group, such as at Sovini Trade Supplies in Aintree.

The Sovini Group also employ a number of Reservists and provides tailored support including an additional 10 days leave for training and unlimited unpaid leave if they are mobilised.

Dr Roy Williams, CEO of The Sovini Group said:

“It’s an honour to be the first housing group to achieve the Gold Award. By adopting the Armed Forces Covenant we help to make sure the people who make huge sacrifices on our behalf receive the recognition and support they deserve in the workplace and the wider community”

Private Tracy Newman, Customer Empowerment Officer, The Sovini Group said:

“The Sovini Group has been fantastic from the very beginning supporting me in my Army Reserves journey. The flexibility they have given me has been invaluable. When I talk to other Sovini staff during Armed Forces partnership events I see real interest from colleagues and going forward I hope to encourage more staff to get involved.”

Tobias Ellwood, The Minister for Defence People and Veterans said:

“The breadth and diversity of this year’s winners shows how business support for the Armed Forces continues to flourish. Their commitment is a testament to the fantastic contribution our serving personnel, veterans and their families can make to any organisation. We all have a role to play in ensuring that the Armed Forces community is not disadvantaged by service, and each of these employers is a setting an example as meaningful advocates for those protecting the nation.”

For more information about The Sovini Group, visit

Former pupil pays Merchant Taylors’ School a flying visit

A former pupil decided to drop in at his old school in Crosby to say hello – and arrived by helicopter!

Royal Navy Air Squadron, Lieutenant Commander AJ Thompson paid a visit to Merchant Taylors’ School on Friday, April 27th and arrived by a Royal Navy Wildcat helicopter, much to the delight of current pupils and staff!

It turned out to be a family affair as AJ’s brother, William, attends the school and was part of a CCF Guard of Honour when he landed.

The brothers were then met at the school by their dad, Andrew.

The day was attended by 38 senior North West military professionals from the RAF, Army and the Royal Navy and consisted of a formal inspection of the Schools’ Guard of Honour, followed by a review of its cadet’s activities and performances.

Merchant Taylors’ Combined Cadet’s Force was founded in 1915, and is one of the largest contingents in the country.

Lt Cdr Thompson said “It’s been 20 years since I left Merchant Taylors’, so it was a real privilege to bring an aircraft back to the school, as I spent so many years being part of its Combined Cadet Force.

“I was especially proud to be able to share this moment with my younger brother, Will, and see him in the Guard of Honour. The connections to school are so important and I hope we can continue these links in the years to come.”

After its arrival, there was a host of activities for the cadets, including an assault course, section attacks and the chance to view the state of the art Wildcat helicopter.

This was followed by lunch at the Boys’ School and a review of the Schools’ CCF Guard of Honour, by Inspecting Officer, Group Captain John Lawlor, Chief of Staff for the RAF Air Cadets.

Formby civic group hopeful of securing memorial status for Woodvale plaque

A special plaque honouring war heroes who were based at Woodvale air base could soon become an official war memorial, local historical groups hope.

Members of the Formby Civic Society are keen to secure special war memorial status for the plaque which is currently found near to RAF Woodvale at the Freshfield Dune Heath Nature Reserve.

Local historian Dr. Reg Yorke, of the Formby Civic Society, was instrumental in getting together members of the society, the RAF and the Widlife Trust to secure the plaque – which has been dubbed the RAF Woodvale Historical Interpretive Panel

The Panel bears the wording: ‘Lest we forget’:- “In memory of all airmen and aircrew killed on service at RAF Woodvale during the Second World War.”

It also shows their names, rank and squadron.

RAF Woodvale was designed as an allweather fighter airfield for the defence of Merseyside. The decision was made in early 1941 but It was completed too late for the 1940-41 Blitz on Merseyside.

However the base provided strong support for the defence of the entire region until the end of WWII.

A spokesperson for Formby Civic Society said: “Previously, the site had been partly a large private Golf Club as well as a good amount of farmland adjacent to the new By-Pass; indeed, much farmland on the other side of the new road was requisitioned also to provide space for the accommodation of 2000 personnel.

“It was opened officially on December 7, 1941 and became operational when a Polish squadron arrived from RAF Northwich with six Spitfires.

“Flying began on 15 December 1941. In 1943, No.222 (Dutch) Squadron’s Spitfires added to the Polish squadrons already based at  Woodvale.

“Night protection was undertaken by Beaufighters and Mosquitos, and Woodvale became Sector Control Station for the North West, controlling all operational flying, especially enemy aircraft interceptions.

“Second line units also operated from Woodvale , flying a variety of types of aircraft used for calibration; some of this work was undertaken with the Royal Navy gunnery training range at HMS Queen Charlotte on the beach at Ainsdale.

“Woodvale was used regularly by American aircraft bringing personnel for rest and recuperation at Southport.

“In October 1944 a B-24 crashed on landing, killing 7 of the twenty occupants.

“After the War, Woodvale housed auxiliary and training units; this is a task that continues today.

“The very last Spitfires to fly routine duty in active military markings retired from here in June 1957.

“In January 1958, No.5 Civilian Anti-Aircraft Co-Operation Unit moved in and operated Meteors until September 1971.

“The airfield today is surrounded by Freshfield Dune Heath, the largest lowland heath site in Lancashire.

“Formby Civic Society is grateful for the work and commitment of Dr. Reg Yorke in bringing this Interpretive Panel to fruition.

“This was achieved when Reg was also leading the FCS efforts to develop our programme of introducing a number of Blue Plaques to the Formby Community.”

A bid has now being made to seek permission for the plaque to be given historical war memorial status.

Blind Formby veteran Roy finally honoured for helping liberate France during WW2

A blind veteran from Formby has been finally honoured for his part in helping rid France of Nazi occupation.

92-year-old Roy Stinton was this week formally presented with the Chevalier de l’Ordre National de la Legion d’Honneur for his part in the liberation of Europe during World War II.

The ceremony was organised by Blind Veterans UK, the national charity for blind and vision-impaired ex-Service men and women, from whom Roy receives support.

A proud Roy was presented with the prestigious honour in front of his friends and family in Llandudno.

Roy said: “I feel very privileged to have received this fantastic award. I would like to extend my thanks to the French government for recognising the part that I, and so many others – many of whom are sadly no longer with us – played in helping to liberate their great nation.

“I joined the Royal Navy in 1943.  I told them that I’d like to be a gunner, like my brother, but they said I was too good for that!

“They told me they had some new anti-submarine detection technology being installed in HMS Stalker, the ship on which I eventually served.

“Even the Americans didn’t have it. In fact it was so sensitive we were told not to wear our badges while off-duty for fear of being interrogated.

“I took part in the landings in the South of France, as well as Rangoon.

“During D-Day we were in a rest camp in the Atlas Mountains. It was an extremely tough time for my family as my brother was on a ship that came in from Gibraltar.

“Unfortunately, they told me I wasn’t allowed to see him, or indeed anyone at all. It was very hard indeed.

“Later I was transferred to the Far East where I was on minesweeping duties.

“I was in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, just six months after the atomic bombs were dropped.”

Despite the many horrors and atrocities Roy witnessed, he still maintains several positive memories of his time in service.

“He explained: “I look back on the war with good and bad feelings.

“Being in Hiroshima on my 19th birthday, seeing the devastation that had taken place, it’s the kind of thing you’re desperate to forget immediately. It’s one of the most harrowing things you’ll ever see.

“That being said, we had some good times and I met some great mates. But even then, there are times when you don’t think you’re ever going to come home. It’s a surreal thought and impossible to describe.”

After marrying his childhood sweetheart, Joyce, in 1948, Roy set up his own fuchsia business in 1950. He recalls: “It started off slowly but progressed well. I had a good name for quality, not necessarily quantity. There were so many new gardening centres opening up all over the country, and they were looking for something different.”

Unfortunately for Roy, his eyesight has long been a troubling factor in his life, though he admits it wasn’t until six or seven years ago that it began to severely impact his day to day capabilities.

He says: “It all began in earnest around six or seven years ago. I already had age related macular degeneration, so it was gradual, but still very tough.

“I can’t read anything, but I can see people walking towards me, and from about two or three paces away I can recognise them.

“It was my hospital radiologist who initially suggested Blind Veterans UK to me, and thank goodness they did. We’ve been to the charity’s Llandudno centre and absolutely loved it.

“The staff were wonderful, they couldn’t do enough for you. I just couldn’t believe there were people like that in the world. I’m proud to be part of the charity.”

Roy said: “The helpfulness of the staff at the charity’s centres is superb. I hope that anyone who’s entitled to their fantastic support is able to make use of it and discover that they do not have to battle blindness alone.”

Blind Veterans UK was founded in 1915 and the charity’s initial purpose was to help and support soldiers blinded in the First World War. But the organisation has gone on to support more than 35,000 blind veterans and their families, spanning WWII to recent conflicts including Iraq and Afghanistan.

For more information about the work of Blind Veterans click here.


Sefton MBC award Freedom of the Borough to Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment

Sefton Council recently awarded the freedom of the borough to the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment at Bootle Town Hall. The Regiment paraded through the streets of Bootle with colours flying, bands playing, drums beating and bayonets fixed.

The parade was followed by a civic reception where the close bond between Sefton Council and the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment was celebrated. The occasion gave Sefton the opportunity to show their gratitude to the services past and present of the Regiment.

Source: MySefton

New Armed Forces Website Launched

A new Armed Forces Covenant website has launched this month.

The new online site will act as the central hub of information for all matters relating to the Armed Forces Covenant, with specific areas detailing Support and advice for:

  • Current Service Personnel (Regular and Reserve)
  • Service families
  • Service leavers
  • Former Service Personnel
  • Businesses

The Armed Forces Covenant is a promise by the nation ensuring that those who serve or who have served in the armed forces, and their families, are treated fairly.

The website also contains information for supporters of the Covenant, including businesses, charities, the general public and local authorities, and regular news stories about how the Covenant is helping real people.

Sefton Veterans Project helps Seaforth hero receive his father’s lost medals

A WAR hero from Seaforth has been formally presented with the medals of his father who served in the First World War.

Henry Edward Whetnall, 89, was joined by other veterans at the Bowersdale Centre where they were given medals in a touching ceremony attended by the Mayor of Sefton and MP Peter Dowd.

Henry, who served for his country during the 1939-45 period in a bomb disposal team in Palestine, has social media to thank for helping to reunite him with his father’s medals.

The Champion reported in February 2015 how the ex-serviceman was given his own medals which he had lost after getting help from Sefton Veteran’s Project.

The group then shared the story on social media and Henry’s distant cousin, Rita, who lives in America, spotted it while researching her own family tree and decided to get in touch.

She helped Henry locate his father’s medals and a presentation was held on Wednesday, March 2.

David Smith of Expect Ltd and Project Manager of the Sefton Veterans Project, said: “It was an incredible story last year. When Henry told us about his missing medals, we worked hard to track them down from the Ministry of Defence, and it was a very moving presentation.

“As soon as Rita got in touch, we knew we had to present Henry with his father’s original medals to give the honour and respect both men deserved.”

Sefton Veterans Project is delivered by the charity Expect Ltd, a charity providing services to people living with learning disability and mental health problems.

The project’s primary focus is the mental wellbeing of ex-service personnel and their families, and part of its work is to track down and reunite veterans with their missing medals.

Two other local veterans, Tess Cameron and Colin Johnson, joined Henry last week as they also received lost medals.

Tess, who served in the Royal Navy from 1943-46, was reunited with her Second World War General Service Medal and Colin, who served in the Royal Green Jackets, received the Long Service and Good Conduct medal, awarded after 18 years of service.

David added: “Reuniting veterans with lost medals is just one aspect of our work.

“We believe it’s incredibly important to formally acknowledge these military honours.

“It’s bringing back pride, recognising those who risked their lives, and not forgetting theirs and their fallen comrades’ sacrifices.”

The medals were presented by Commodore Gary Doyle, a senior Royal Navy officer and the new regional commander for Northern England and the Isle of Man.

NHS South Sefton CCG: Sefton veterans inspire local NHS staff

A doctor’s surgery in Bootle has donated funds to the Sefton Veterans Project following a memorable talk from the leader of the project and ex-military himself, David Smith.

It follows a training session, organised by NHS South Sefton Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) late last year to raise awareness of the Sefton wide project and the work it does to support military veterans.

Practice staff heard how David faced issues in adjusting to life outside the forces after 25 years of service and how he now works for the charity, Expect Ltd. Following discussions, the charity decided to start up the Sefton Veterans Project with the primary focus being the mental health issues ex service personnel frequently suffer on discharge from the armed forces.

The staff at Moore Street Surgery were so touched by the talk that they decided to donate £100 collected from a dress down day to the project.

Practice Manager at Moore Street Surgery, Helen Shillcock said: “Dave and the other veterans talk was so inspiring, it really made us think about how referrals to the project can seriously help veterans by giving them the support that they need.

“When you hear about how Dave and some of the other veterans have turned their lives around and are now helping others like them it is so motivating. We held a dress down day a while back and raised £100, we knew all along that the Sefton Veterans Project was where we wanted to donate the money to and they truly deserve it for all their hard work.”

The Sefton Veterans Project is managed by Expect Ltd, a charity providing services for people living with a learning disability or enduring mental health problems, and is an initiative between Sefton Council, Sefton CVS and the two CCGs in Sefton who have helped to develop the veterans strategy for Sefton.

Together, they have established a one stop facility in Expects Bowersdale Resource Centre, Seaforth for ex-service personnel and their families to provide help and advice with mental wellbeing housing, employment, dependency and financial issues. They also provide mentor support when referring to specialist mental health experts who fully understand a veteran’s needs and issues such as combat stress.

Dave Smith from the Sefton Veterans Project said: “We were overwhelmed when the surgery told us they’d like us to have the money. It is great to know that the talks that we do are so effective when really it’s just informing the public of what services we offer as a project and what experience we have been through to warrant such a service.

“The money will be put towards a retreat that we are taking some of our veterans on in Scotland in May and we are extremely grateful to the practice for choosing us. It is so important that people know about our service and that military veterans are referred to us so that we can help. It is so nice to give something back to those who have been through similar experiences.

”A huge thank you goes to Angela Curran, Locality Development Support at the CCG for organising the talk which has led to more referrals to the Sefton Veteran Project.”

For more information visit:

The NHS currently provides 12 mental health services across England specifically for veterans. They enable specialist staff to care for ex-forces personnel with mental health needs, direct them to the most appropriate service and give them effective treatment.

To help improve future care across the country NHS England are asking armed forces veterans to share their experience of mental health services.

The launch of their national survey will help improve the care available for veterans as they move from military to civilian life.

The survey is a chance for veterans to share their experiences and views of existing mental health services and to understand the reasons why some people have not sought or received support and treatment. You can complete the questionnaire here.

Lost Voices: new report investigates hearing problems among Armed Forces and veterans

The Royal British Legion calls on Government to do more to support Service personnel and veterans with hearing problems.

The Royal British Legion today calls on the Government to provide better support and recognition to members of the Armed Forces and veterans with hearing problems caused by military Service. In a report entitled Lost Voices, published today, the Legion reveals that veterans under the age of 75 are three-and-a-half times more likely than the general population to report problems with their hearing.

Lost Voices argues that working-age veterans with Service-induced hearing problems should be eligible for ‘special treatment’, in line with the principles of the Armed Forces Covenant. Lost Voices reports the findings of Legion research on hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ears), and makes a number of recommendations for Government. It was produced by the Legion in collaboration with the Ear Institute at University College London, Action on Hearing Loss and the British Tinnitus Association.

Lost Voices _serving

At a minimum, the Legion calls on the Government to:

  • Enable working-age veterans to access higher grade hearing aids, including less conspicuous ‘in the ear’ hearing aids, and ensure that all veterans can have their MOD-issued aids serviced and replaced at no cost;
  • Compensate Service personnel and veterans properly for hearing problems caused by their time in the military. This should consider both damage caused during Service and any differences between the hearing of a veteran of a particular age, compared with a non-veteran of the same age, to take account of the long term impact of hearing problems caused by Service; and
  • Invest in the EARSHOT Centre – a proposed new centre of research and clinical expertise. Long-term investment would allow a thorough programme of research on Service-related hearing loss to be set up.

Chris Simpkins, Director General of The Royal British Legion, said: “Hearing loss is one of the signature injuries of war and military Service, and it can have a profound effect on career prospects, relationships, social life and mental health.

“Many veterans, some of whom have been discharged due to hearing loss, are not eligible for compensation. Some find themselves having to pay out of their own pockets for military-issued hearing aids to be serviced and replaced. This is unacceptable.

“Our report calls on the Government to do more to recognise the sacrifices made by Service people and veterans suffering from hearing loss and tinnitus, and the importance of good hearing to a healthy, productive and happy life.”

Read the full report (in PDF format) here.