Facilities management firm BAM helps businessman re-train veterans to plant new trees and solve mental health problems
Hemel Hempstead, 16 March 2021 - An innovative business idea, involving re-training veterans to become experts in arboriculture and horticulture, has been helped to get off the ground by a facilities management firm.
The brand new business, the Green Task Force, is pioneered by former naval engineer Andrew Steel. It solves two problems at once, helping veterans re-integrate into civil society and cope with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) while offering a solution to Britain’s massive commitment to plant 600 million new trees.
The idea, fostered by Steel while he led a tree-planting charity in Asia, became reality when ex-veteran Andrew Steel talked to his best friend Chris Sanford, head of operations at a facilities management business, who saw the potential in helping him. Both men previously served on HMS Illustrious.
Says Sanford, who works for BAM FM, the sister of one of Britain’s biggest construction firms: ‘Andrew is a dynamo, bringing a good business brain, a winning personality and a can-do attitude to everything he does. He is the ideal man to change people’s lives and make a difference. BAM planted over 150,000 trees ourselves a year ago, and as a business that wants to be net carbon zero by 2030, I thought this was a great fit for us to back a scheme that make a difference for many years to come, while helping create life-changing opportunities for veterans.’
The firm has donated The Green Task Force equipment, set up its website and given support and mentoring for its business plan.
About a fifth of armed forces veterans who have experienced combat experience PTSD. Meanwhile, the Government’s 25-year environmental plan commits it to planting 180,000 hectares by the end of 2042.
Andrew Steel says: ‘There are two stark facts. One, people do not realise the extent to which ex armed forces people can struggle to re-integrate into civil society and PTSD can play a role in this, affecting even those who have not experienced combat. And two: the Government does not have the delivery mechanisms in place to deliver its commitment to tree planting. My experience has shown me that you cannot rely on volunteers alone, you need professional, organised and resourced planning and expertise to deliver a commitment on this scale. Trees not planted properly will simply die and great efforts can go to waste. The Green Task Force is aimed at providing both a short and long term solution which will gives veterans the nature-based therapy that working outdoors provides, together with a professional delivery solution that I am looking to roll out over Britain during the next five years to allow our authorities to have expert sustainable planting capabilities.’
Just six months in, Andrew has already recruited over 30 veterans into his business. From a start in the Northern Forest, he has already begun operations in Cumbria, Wales and Scotland. ‘The North Yorkshire Dales alone has a need for 12 million trees, and going across into West Cumbria, there is a combined 6,000 Hectares of land alone. I can see a need for the kind of capability we are providing for decades.’
Speaking during a veterans’ tree-planting event in Hull, Ross Baldinger, a local veteran from Hull who served with the Royal Logistics Core, said: ‘I went through a divorce and did not work as part of a team for years. Being back with other veterans and ex-servicemen working on something like this is good for me, and is feels great to do something positive for the area and something so constructive. I will be bringing my kids back to show them what I have been part of.’
Veterans joining the Green Task Force are not only re-trained and employed, but are also free to set-up independently providing other services such as woodland management, dry stone wall repairs, herbicide spraying and garden maintenance, even removing fly-tipping.
Chris Sanford adds: ‘Part of the work BAM does is outdoors, managing estates providing groundworks and waste management for example. I know first-hand the effort and mobilisation that these and even planting trees takes, and we really hope to be able to take on some of the veterans Andrew is re-training when the right opportunities arise.’
The Government’s manifesto commits it to increasing tree planting to 30,000 hectares per year across the UK by 2025, alongside peatland restoration and nature recovery.
Dr Steel ran a planting charity in Asia that delivered three million trees in seven countries winning it the United Nations SEED award for entrepreneurship in sustainable and economic development and winning him an honorary doctorate from Hull University in recognition of his extensive work in the field of environmental science.
The Green Task Force: https://greentaskforce.wordpress.com/
Government commitments: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/25-year-environment-plan/25-year-environment-plan-our-targets-at-a-glance
BAM FM: https://www.bam.co.uk/what-we-do/facilities-management