Large numbers of children of service families from 30 schools in North Yorkshire have met together in Ripon Cathedral for a special service of dedication.
The children are members of HMS (Her Majesty’s Schools) Heroes, a national pupil-led organisation which gives young people a voice and helps to raise the profile of service children and explain to others the unique challenges that go hand-in-hand with being part of a military family.
HMS Heroes, which started in Plymouth and is supported by the Royal British Legion, now formally involves 20 schools in North Yorkshire and has been operating in the county for the past term.
As a symbol of their unity, service children and young people in North Yorkshire have now purchased their own standard and attended a special service of dedication at Ripon Cathedral last week.
There are nearly 3,000 service pupils of school-age in North Yorkshire, one of the largest groups in the country, and HMS Heroes is becoming an effective way for these pupils to make their voices heard and raise concerns with regards to their education and welfare.
Matt Blyton, the county council’s education development adviser who specialises in supporting service families, said:
HMS Heroes is helping to strengthen the sense of identity that these children have so that they can take pride in their unique culture and make a positive contribution to society.
Service children often face challenges associated with mobility and can experience many changes of school over the course of their school career. Parental deployment to places like Afghanistan can also leave them vulnerable both educationally and socially.
The county council is recognised nationally for its good practice in supporting armed forces children – acting as their advocates and both supporting and challenging schools to raise standards of education for services pupils.
Through Matt Blyton, the county council has supported the appointment of Service Pupils’ Champions in three areas of the county where there is a concentration of service personnel – Ripon; Catterick and Richmond and Bedale. These champions will develop HMS Heroes to bring services children together for mutual support as well as to provide bespoke support to families.
Members of HMS Heroes act as ambassadors and young advocates for service families but most importantly they are friends for each other in times of need. Twenty schools now have an HMS Heroes association with lunch-time or after school clubs, drop-in sessions and fund-raising activities.
It was when pupils had to borrow the national HMS Heroes standard for a homecoming service for the 21 Engineers of Claro Barracks on their return from Afghanistan last April, that they decided they wanted their own standard in North Yorkshire. This has now been achieved through fund-raising and support from organisations such as the Royal British Legion; the Dishforth military wives choir; the Royal Engineers Association and Ripon Cathedral.
The service of dedication was attended by VIPs including the county council chairman Cllr Bernard Bateman, the Mayor of Ripon Cllr Mick Stanley; the new garrison commander at Catterick Colonel Stephen Padgett ; commanding officer of 21 Engineers Lieutenant Colonel Jack Nicholson; Pete Dwyer, Corporate Director for North Yorkshire’s Children and Young People’s Service and Rev Brian Hunt, Deputy Lieutenant of North Yorkshire.
The development of HMS Heroes in the county comes at an important time of change – the further development of Catterick into Europe’s largest super garrison and the influx with the influx of over 1,000 more service children into the county over the next few years as armed forces personnel return as part of the drawdown of troops from Germany.
County Councillor Arthur Barker, North Yorkshire’s Executive Member for Schools said:
We are very proud to be developing HMS Heroes to represent service children in North Yorkshire. We hope more schools will become members for their pupils.
Service children are often resilient and adaptable but they welcome the opportunity to support each other. They tell us that they don’t want to be treated differently but they do want to be understood so that their needs are recognised. HMS Heroes helps to give them a voice to support each other and to explain their needs to others.
Catterick Garrison Commander, Colonel Stephen Padgett said:
The early life experiences of children whose parents serve in the Armed Forces may be quite different from and not necessarily well understood by their peers or even their teachers. Some of those experiences may help them to become adaptable, resilient and confident but sometimes they have to deal with extra challenges and pressures too.
The HMS Heroes scheme enables Service children to connect with others who share similar experiences and promotes wider understanding of their situation. I would encourage support for these efforts and commend those who have championed the scheme to date.
Ripon Cathedral’s Canon Educator, Elizabeth Sewell, said, “We were delighted to host the dedication of the HMS Heroes North Yorkshire standard at what was a creative service and a great opportunity to hear from, and honour the children of service families. North Yorkshire’s armed forces and their families are always in our prayers and it is wonderful to welcome children from across the County here.