Veterans Support

Shared Parenting Scotland fully recognises the unique lifestyle of those that serve or have served in our Armed Forces and the toll this can take on family life especially when children are involved.

This specialised service is supported by the Veterans Foundation and it is being managed by one of the Shared Parenting Scotland staff, Mark Downie. We’re very grateful to the Veterans Foundation – this support will allow us to build up the work we have already been doing with veterans and serving parents who need help after separation. Further down this page you can find updates on events that Mark has attended specifically relating to military veterans

Mark came to work with us in 2020 after having served in the Royal Marines from 1987 to 1997 and then in the police force for 24 years.

Mark turned to Shared Parenting Scotland for support in 2008 and was made very welcome and was given invaluable insight, moral support and practical assistance over many years.

In 2017 Mark was made a Trustee and then finally a staff member of the charity, where he works on the helpline assisting members of the public in dealing with a wide range of parenting, family, and court issues.

For more details on Mark’s background and work click here.

Mark’s Postings

In this section you will find excerpts of Mark’s updates on events that he’s attended specifically relating to military veterans.

At the beginning of December my wife and I along with our sons were privileged to act as Directing Staff for the Royal Marines Association / Club Winter Deployment 2023 based in Fort William, Scotland.

This annual event allows for veteran and serving Royal Marines and their families who have suffered and are currently suffering life changing conditions to be given a short break in Scotland. This break is designed to provide some respite to them along with their partners/wives and children who are so often overlooked whilst their husband/partners transition into their recovery paths and long-term recuperation process.

This deployment puts the emphasis on relaxation and enjoyment in the company of like-minded people of the Royal Marines Family. With this in mind, there are numerous fun excursions/events that can be attended such as trips to the Glenfinnan Viaduct (of Harry Potter fame), the Highland Wildlife Park (where the polar bears and tigers were a particular attraction), Nessie Hunting on Loch Ness (We saw her !), sledging in Glencoe and of course a family Xmas party with a ‘surprise’ visit from the real Santa !

Naturally as forces family we all pay our respects to those that have went before us when we attend the Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge.

This year was particularly poignant for families in that we remembered on the 4th December 1951 the 52 members of the Chatham Royal Marines Cadets who were aged between 9 – 13 years old and were marching at the side of the road in full uniform when a double-decker bus collided with their company along Dock Road, Chatham. Tragically because of this collision, 24 Royal Marine Cadets lost their lives and 18 were injured.

The company were marching from Melville Barracks to the Royal Naval barracks, Chatham to attend a boxing tournament. The cadets were marching three abreast on the left-hand side of the road dressed in uniform wearing Royal Marines standard issue dark blue battle dress and berets.

A military funeral was held for 20 of the boys that lost their lives at Rochester Cathedral on the 12th December 1951, the other 4 boys having private Catholic funerals. Thousands of local people lined the route of the funeral procession and gathered outside the cathedral.

Every year on the Sunday closest to the event, the Chatham Marine Cadet Unit hold a memorial parade at the ceremony where the Cadets were laid to rest.

This year my son, who is a Junior Naval Cadet, was selected to lay a wreath at the Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge for the cadets who lost their lives and the families present also placed 24 individual crossed crosses for every cadet life lost in this tragic incident – Forever Remembered.

Once again, my wife and I gladly accepted an invitation from the RMA Edinburgh Branch to attend their pop-up event at the newly opened up-market cocktail bar, Cocoboho on George Street, Edinburgh.

The Secretary of the RMA Edinburgh branch, Matt Jones, sums up the evening events eloquently in the following blog which he (once more) kindly gave me permission to ‘prof’.

On 27th September the Edinburgh branch held and RMA ‘pop up’ event in a newly opened up market cocktail bar, COCOBOHO, on George Street. The purpose of the event was threefold:

  1. To boost membership numbers to our branch which has experienced a steady decline over the last decade or so.
  2. To inform and remind all existing members of the RMA the important work that the RMA – The Royal Marines Charity does in terms of activities, fund raising and support of its serving, retired and wider family members and associates.
  3. To offer prospective associate members of the business community in Edinburgh and across Scotland an opportunity to create a bond between their company and members of our Association whether through sponsorship, physical involvement or by offering job opportunities to members who may be seeking employment and come with a 1st class pedigree.

RMA Operations Director Richie Puttock delivering the presentation

We were extremely pleased to know that the turnout on the evening was over 50 people. Branch secretary, Matt Jones opened the evening by welcoming everyone and then swiftly handed over the floor to the RMA’s Operations Director East Richie Puttock who delivered a smooth and very well polished presentation complete with colourful slides and enjoyable short video clips to our audience.

In attendance along with many current members of the Edinburgh branch was the new RMA CEO, Ben Currie, RMA trustee Sara Reed, RMA Membership Coordinator AJ, members of the Glasgow RMA branch fronted by their chairman Ian Hopkins, Baz Barrett the RMA Transition Officer for Scotland and Nick Holloway, the RMA’s Relationships Manager. We also managed to track down a number of former ex Booties and Bandies living in and around the capital so for them this was a wonderful evening to be back amongst faces they hadn’t seen in years.

RMA Edinburgh Branch Secretary Matt Jones opens the event

There were also a number of businesses in attendance who all showed an enthusiasm for future collaboration, and these included the Scottish Rugby Union, Baillie Gifford, Kinetic Demolition and East Lothian’s very own Rum & Gin Distillery, NB (North Berwick) Distillers. Immense gratitude for making this event work so successfully is due to Richie Puttock and AJ in the first instance for their presentation. To the branch secretary’s partner, Georgina Richardson of The Edinburgh Recruitment Agency, along with her PA Lee Sulkowska for assisting tirelessly in the administration and correspondence to ensure our event was a success. A mention must also go to the expertise of Joe Paterson who photographed the whole event.

As winter approaches, we look forward to a New Year that will continue to show growth within the branch. Anyone wishing to become a member of the Edinburgh branch then please contact the branch secretary via the RMA website.

SPS Veterans / Armed Forces Manager with RMA Operations Director Richie Puttock

It was with great pleasure my wife and I along with other members of the Royal Marines Association Edinburgh Branch accepted the generous offer of a visit/tour of HMS Prince of Wales whilst in dry dock at Rosyth.

The Secretary of the RMA Edinburgh, Matt Jones, sums up the day’s events eloquently in the following blog which he kindly gave me permission to ‘prof’…

On Thursday 1st June the Edinburgh Branch of the Royal Marines Association welcomed in the summer with a trip to visit HMS Prince of Wales (RO9) in Rosyth dockyard as she nears the end of the repair work to the drive shaft.

A group comprising 20 members of the branch including Brigadier Ian Gardiner assembled on the quayside beneath the vast bulk of this amazing super carrier. 65,000 tons of nautical steel hardware sitting lonely in a dry dock did not befit such a regal title, but it was for just another 30 or so days as she with her 240-foot beam and 932-foot length are scheduled to depart from Rosyth at the beginning of July, all being well.

Our hosts were from the air wing of the carrier’s complement and were extremely efficient in getting us through the rigorous security processes before we were able to cross the brow of the ship. Both Lieutenant Commander Chris Poulson and Chief Petty Officer Sam Skiff were eloquent and full of enthusiasm as they guided and conducted us through this most enjoyable tour. It was certainly the equivalent of a ‘bottom-field’ work out as we managed to total up around 10,000 steps within two and half hours as we travelled through lavishly wide corridors with street names from around the UK, up and down stairwells with the pitch of a Cathedral’s steeple and into a futuristic world of computer gaming rooms that were the pumps which made this warship’s heart beat. For anyone who has served on a warship as either ship’s company or embarked force in the past, this ship, by comparison was like stepping into a rich oligarchs floating palace.

Unfortunately, there were no aircraft to see on this occasion but when on deployment she is host at surge capacity to 65+ aircraft including 36 F-35 Lightning II fighter aircraft and 14 helicopters. The hangar alone was an immense space that was so clinically clean that it looked more like an empty Amazon warehouse. The flight deck and ski ramp too were vast, and one could only imagine the noise and mayhem onboard when flying stations were in full swing.

We visited the bridge in the forward tower, and this resembled the flight deck of Star Trek’s star ship Enterprise. A distinct lack of paper as aspects of operations from this location were computerised, including the ships charts. There was a chartroom with a few portfolios of paper charts, but this appeared more as a museum exhibit than a navigational operations room. In the rear tower was where all aircraft are coordinated and controlled from. Again, no expense has been spared in the design of this onboard air traffic control tower with its 12 x 25 foot high, 6 feet wide bomb proof green tinted windows that overlook the whole flight deck. Each window having its own 25-foot-tall windscreen wipers which, I am told, cost around £15,000 each to replace – I wonder if Halfords would fit these while you wait?

On Thursday 1st June the Edinburgh Branch of the Royal Marines Association welcomed in the summer with a trip to visit HMS Prince of Wales (RO9) in Rosyth dockyard as she nears the end of the repair work to the drive shaft.

A group comprising 20 members of the branch including Brigadier Ian Gardiner assembled on the quayside beneath the vast bulk of this amazing super carrier. 65,000 tons of nautical steel hardware sitting lonely in a dry dock did not befit such a regal title, but it was for just another 30 or so days as she with her 240-foot beam and 932-foot length are scheduled to depart from Rosyth at the beginning of July, all being well.

Our hosts were from the air wing of the carrier’s complement and were extremely efficient in getting us through the rigorous security processes before we were able to cross the brow of the ship. Both Lieutenant Commander Chris Poulson and Chief Petty Officer Sam Skiff were eloquent and full of enthusiasm as they guided and conducted us through this most enjoyable tour. It was certainly the equivalent of a ‘bottom-field’ work out as we managed to total up around 10,000 steps within two and half hours as we travelled through lavishly wide corridors with street names from around the UK, up and down stairwells with the pitch of a Cathedral’s steeple and into a futuristic world of computer gaming rooms that were the pumps which made this warship’s heart beat. For anyone who has served on a warship as either ship’s company or embarked force in the past, this ship, by comparison was like stepping into a rich oligarchs floating palace.

Of the crew we met aboard the Prince of Wales, all appeared to walk in a manner that suggests they are aware of where they work and that they are justly proud of this fact. I must say, from a personal perspective, I am very envious of the crew of today’s Royal Navy living in such luxurious conditions, but I suppose they deserve it as the world evolves and moves forwards with technology and if we are to maintain the best navy in the world then they deserve nothing but the best in return. We concluded our visit with a hearty fair well to our hosts on the gangway with the exchange of a bottle of port. Well done to all those aboard HMS Prince of Wales and we trust you will be seaborne again very soon. As they say in Scotland; “Safe oot, safe hame”!

Matt Jones

Secretary

RMA – Edinburgh Branch

On Thursday 18th May 2023, at the invitation of Wing Commander Allan Steele WS RAF (Retd) of SSAFA and the Scottish National War Memorial, I attended a Corporates at the Castle event within the Officers Mess at Edinburgh Castle. This event was superbly hosted by Major General Alastair Bruce OBE VR DL the Governor of Edinburgh Castle and other notable guests included the Lord Provost of Edinburgh Robert Aldridge and Dundee Football Club Managing Director John Nelms.

It was a fantastic evening all round where guests were given a tour of the Scottish National War Memorial located within the walls of Edinburgh Castle perfectly accompanied by the delightful sounds of the Military Wives (Rosyth) Choir. On completion of the tour, we retired again to the Officers Mess (the Major General’s home!) where we were all captivated by an emotional and awe-inspiring talk by the Governor about his vast 43+ years’ experience in the army and why it is so important to look after and provide all support possible to our military veterans.

The evening concluded with the drawing of the raffle prizes, and thereafter we all sauntered away slowly down the castle ramparts towards the city comforted by the knowledge of the tremendous support on offer to our Military Veterans by both SSAFA and the Scottish National War Memorial.

On Saturday 13th May 2023, along with my fellow Army veterans, I attended Twickenham for the Annual, and as always keenly contested, Army V Navy Babcock Trophy rugby match.

All around and inside the stadium the relaxed atmosphere, fancy dress, and enjoyment was plain to see, especially when meeting old oppos not seen in many years. In typical military style, in seconds it was as though we had never been apart and in our mind’s eye, we were all back being 18/19 year old squaddies again!

Into our seats we went, and the teams emerged with nervous apprehension but with a noticeable steely grit and determination in their eyes. They were accompanied superbly as always by the band of His Majesty’s Royal Marines, with every single person within the stadium then singing loudly and proudly, for the very first time at this fixture, the national anthem ‘God Save the King’. This cacophony of sound made all the hairs on the back of our necks stand up and we all felt if this did not inspire both teams then nothing ever would.

With the adrenaline pumping both on and off the field, the match kicked off and what a fantastic end-to-end match it was throughout that was thoroughly enjoyed by all.

Naturally, I am delighted to report that the match resulted in a very long overdue win for the fantastic and well-deserved Navy team, who won the match 39 v 22 and raised the Babcock Trophy aloft. I must however admit to missing this part as by then I had returned to the bar and was back performing as 19-year-old Marine Downie milking the victory to the max with my ‘gracious’, also 19-year-old army Private mates!

On Sunday 2nd April 2023, on the invitation of the Royal Marines Association – Edinburgh branch, along with my family, I attended the 78th Anniversary parade and subsequent reception of Royal Marine VC recipient Thomas Peck Hunter at his memorial at Ocean Terminal, Edinburgh.

This was a poignant and thought-provoking event which was very well attended by the RMA veterans from across Scotland and supported by both the Edinburgh Leith and Trinity branches of the Sea Cadets.

It was also great to see a lot of ‘old’ familiar faces and share ‘dits’ at the reception afterwards which was ably hosted by the Royal Navy & Royal Marines Club, Broughton, Edinburgh.

Although born in Aldershot, Thomas was raised and schooled in Edinburgh. Thomas was the recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

The full story of why Thomas was awarded the VC can be found above in this RMA Edinburgh video.

Shared Parenting Scotland is already supporting veterans who have been referred to us by some of the organisations listed below. Mark has worked to establish relationships between Shared Parenting Scotland and these Veteran’s organisations, amongst others.

Forces Children Scotland

Veterans First Point Lothian

SACRO Veterans Mentoring Service

Forces Children Scotland

The Royal Marines Charity

SACRO Veterans Mentoring Service

“We refer Veteran families to Shared Parenting Scotland, as they not only offer specialist advice but can also specifically support Veteran families with family challenges such as family breakdowns, separation and of course, shared parenting. Through our mental health and wellbeing service, Mindful Connections, we have referred families to Shared Parenting Scotland who are experiencing challenging family circumstances in order to receive more specialist advice and support, especially in regard to peer support from other families. Additionally, where there are areas of training that the family could benefit from such as communication or parenting after separation, we would recommend Shared Parenting Scotland for that support.”

Hannah Johnstone, Children and Family Services Manager, Forces Children Scotland

Sean Hennessy, Veterans Support Worker, Veteran’s 1st Point Lothian

“Shared Parenting Scotland has become a vital asset to the veterans we support here at Veterans First Point Lothian. Far too often have we received calls from parents in distress about their family situation. For a while now it has been an area where we felt we didn’t have the knowledge/experience to support or have an appropriate service to refer to. I have personally referred many veterans to Mark at Shared Parenting Scotland and his help and support has been vital to our veterans. Mark is quick to contact veterans after our referrals and we have had nothing but positive feedback from those we have referred. I hope your service continues the outstanding work you have begun with and funding is secured to meet the growing demand for your service.”

Shared Parenting Scotland is a member of the Armed Forces Covenant

Case Studies

We received a referral from Veteran’s First Point Lothian in September 2022.

Thomas (not his name) is an army veteran having served in the Royal Corp of Transport from 1979-1985. He has a daughter who is now 4 years old but has separated from the mother. He is on his daughter’s birth certificate as Father.

Thomas’ daughter has been removed from his ex-partner by the Social Services and placed in Foster Care and at present his ex-partner gets to see their daughter 3 times a week for 2hrs at a time in a supervised environment organised by Social Work. Currently Thomas only gets to see his daughter once every 4 weeks for a 2 hour period.

Our helpline worker obtained a mandate to obtain information from the social work department and attended a “My Meeting” at the Social Work Department with him on 2nd November. That meeting didn’t agree any immediate increase in either parent’s contact, due to the lack of stability in the child’s life at present.

Our advocacy and attendance at the meeting enabled Thomas to focus on the positives he can offer his daughter rather than just complaining, and we will continue to help him to show that his contact is of benefit to his child.”

Shared Parenting Scotland are here to fully support our serving or veteran military parents when families separate and can offer a range of help including;

  • Free Help, Support & Advice from our Helpline

24 hr Whatsapp peer support groups

Self-help Guides

Training Courses in Communication Skills, Stress Management, Dealing with High Conflict Situations

Find out more about the support Shared Parenting Scotland provides here.