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Barrhead veteran praises Health for Heroes initiative during Armed Forces Month

An army veteran from Barrhead has praised East Renfrewshire Culture and Leisure's Health for Heroes initiative, which offers free health and wellbeing support for veterans.

Barrhead veteran praises Health for Heroes initiative during Armed Forces Month

Article Source: East Renfrewshire Culture & Leisure
Last Updated: 13 June 2024 11:38

Willie McColl, 72, served for 23 years, mainly in the Territorial Army, spent time in Canada and volunteered for the Gulf War in 1990. When he initially returned from service, he took up a variety of roles for Glasgow City Council, sweeping the streets, cleaning toilets for football games, driving heavy goods vehicles and working in an office, before taking early retirement due to health issues.

Speaking during Armed Forces Month, Willie said: “When you finish, you miss it. Transitioning back into the 'normal' world is one of the most difficult things. When I first came back, I didn't belong anywhere.”

Willie endured a number of health issues over the years, including diabetes and hospital stays when suffering from pneumonia and sepsis. He was referred to East Renfrewshire's Live Active scheme, which supports members of the local community in becoming more active.

He explained: “I started speaking to the team and coming to the gym regularly, but stopped when we went into lockdown. I ballooned to 17.5 stones, so that's what got me into Live Active, where I learned about the Health for Heroes initiative.

“I am now around four stone lighter and one of the fittest in my classes. I attend twice a week and am also a volunteer assistant, so I support the classes by bringing down the tea, coffee and water and organising the chairs. I've found a wee role for myself and it gives me something to do. I'm also a member of a book club at Barrhead Foundry library. It's a release for me. I head to the gym after the Vitality classes for at least half an hour and mainly cycle and use the rowing machine. It does me the world of good.”


East Renfrewshire Culture and Leisure was the first leisure trust in Scotland to launch the scheme in 2019, which gives armed forces, army, navy and air force veterans a free fitness membership. This membership includes a consultation with an exercise specialist from the Active Health and Wellbeing Team and access to the gym, fitness classes and swimming. If members are looking for social support too, they can attend the Live Active supervised gym sessions and the Vitality group exercise classes, where getting to know each other is encouraged.

Willie added: “Health for Heroes is important. Would I have been here without it? I don't know. I was getting into being an old man. Barrhead Foundry is a good place. I spend a lot of time here now.”

Active Health and Wellbeing Team member and Gym Instructor Chris Vance co-ordinates the Health for Heroes scheme at East Renfrewshire Culture and Leisure. He said: “The Health for Heroes initiative is designed for ex-service men and women who need that extra bit of support due to mental and physical health conditions. The scheme has almost doubled in the last 18 months and our whole team supports them in their local community.

“The veterans have access to all of our facilities, from the gym and swimming pools to fitness and Live Active classes. It's good that they have someone they can come and speak to and we're often a listening ear, as well as supporting their physical wellbeing. Many of the veterans come regularly - some most days, others once or twice a week.

“Their stories are inspiring. They have been through a lot of tough times and challenges and some are still going through treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They're doing really well and I'm always so impressed at how hard they work.”


East Renfrewshire Culture and Leisure also hosts a veterans’ breakfasts to support the Health for Heroes members to engage with each other and offer local community support. The most recent breakfast at Barrhead Foundry had two guest speakers – Murdo Mackenzie, treasurer of the local brand of the British Legion and Councillor Campbell, Depute Provost and Veterans’ Champion. Murdo talked about the support and friendship offered at Mearns Bowling Club, where the British Legion meets every Friday. Councillor Campbell was pleased to hear more about the support being offered to local veterans and told the group she was delighted to be the local Veterans’ Champion.

East Renfrewshire Council Veterans Support Advisor Jane Duncan, who was a Warrant Officer and served in the army for 22 years, has witnessed the positive impact that the Health for Heroes service can have first-hand.

Jane added: “We owe so much to those who serve to protect our peace and freedom and this project is such a great example of ensuring that veterans have the best possible experience in the community.”

Find out more about East Renfrewshire Culture and Leisure.

For more information on the British Legion meetings at Mearns Bowling Club, email: Murdomackenzie@hotmail.com

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