NO DUFF, a support network for people who have served in the military or the emergency services, have been awarded a prestigious award in recognition of their rehabilitative work.

The Ministry of Defence presented No Duff with the Armed Forces Covenant Silver Award for their wide-ranging work which supports veterans and ex-service members through mental health problems and into housing and employment.

As the sole representative of the award in St Helens, No Duff founder Dean Owen said: “I was over the moon when we got it. It’s a prestigious award and it brings awareness to what we’re doing.”

Dean, who has served in the military as well as in the prison and police service, set up No Duff as a “peer to peer” support system after suffering with his own mental health.

St Helens Star: No Duff founder, Dean OwenNo Duff founder, Dean Owen

No Duff, which derives from a military communications term meaning ‘This is Not a Drill’, is a safe space where veterans and emergency service members can speak to like-minded people who have been through similar things and understand their experience.

As the organisation has grown, the small team now provide a 24-hour-helpline for those in need, along with professional counselling, guidance with claims, benefits or housing, and basic support from other ex-service members.

Due to the pandemic, the group have expanded further after an "eye-opening" amount of emergency service workers were in need of their services.

Speaking of their broad approach, Dean, from Sutton Heath, said: “Veterans and emergency service workers may have different experiences but their illness is the same. Anyone who goes into a combat situation, they’re going to have the same sort of feelings and have a similar experience.”

Dave Lewis, director at No Duff, served in the police for 30 years – with half of this time on the front line – has similar thoughts about the necessity of their work.

He said: “When you’re on the front line, you never know what’s going to happen around the corner. You’ve just got to deal with it and not get affected by it.”

St Helens Star: No Duff director, Dave LeighNo Duff director, Dave Leigh

"In the police, it's often a build up of all the event's of what they've been through. The average person deals with 2 - 3 traumatic experiences in their life, while the average police officer deals with around 600."

Highlighting the need for a service provision like this, the pair explained there has been huge numbers of ex-military and emergency service members coming to their doors since their inception in 2019 – supporting 147 people since August 2020 alone.

In addition to this, there is over 1200 people from across the world in their online support group, which similarly gives people advice and avenues for further help from those who have been in the same industries.

Dean said: “A lot of these people feel safe with the fact that they can put their feelings down, what symptoms they’ve got and ask what help is out there.”

“That’s when the peer-to-peer advice kicks in. We speak the same language and have shared life experiences. You’re speaking to someone who has gone through [similar things].”

St Helens Star: No Duff is helping serving and ex-military and emergency service workersNo Duff is helping serving and ex-military and emergency service workers

Acting as a first port of call for people who are struggling with mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and PTSD, No Duff have also been able to alleviate pressure off the NHS and provide people with almost-immediate help, rather than being placed on an anxiety-inducing, long waiting list.

As well as their team of ex-service members, they also have 10 counsellors on board, ensuring that they can provide a complete personal and professional service.

They also offer fitness and self-defence classes throughout the week at their Wonderland hub, on Reflection Court in the town centre, which is another example of the group providing a wide-range of mental health support.

Reflecting on the gradual understanding of mental health problems and the ability to be more open, Dave said: “I think things have got a lot better”.

“Especially within the police, you’re expected to be robocop and nothing can affect you. Yet, towards the tail end of my career, people became more willing to talk, particularly with their peers.”

St Helens Star: No Duff operate a "peer to peer" support networkNo Duff operate a "peer to peer" support network

Nevertheless, he believes there is still more work to be done, believing that there can be stigma higher up in organisations like the police, who see mental health problems as a “weakness”, especially when being considered for promotions.

After growing their support network to over 1000 people, Dean and Dave hope they can access more funding to ensure they can provide as much support as possible to the wider community, broaden their classes, and help more people.

Dean added: “We’re a prevention [system] rather than a cure. But even the fact that we’re out there helping helps my mental health.

“If somebody’s in a hole, we’ll always get in that hole to help them out.”