Get to know: Colin Back, the National Manager of Op NOVA

In his role as Op NOVA National Manager, Colin Back is one of the UK’s most experienced experts on veteran affairs in the health and justice sector. Commissioned by the NHS and delivered by the Forces Employment Charity, Op NOVA is a support service for veterans in contact with the justice system. 

An Army veteran and former police officer, Colin brings a wealth of sector experience to the Op NOVA senior leadership team.  It was while working in the Kent Police Volume Crime Unit that Colin first identified the veteran community as a specific cohort transitioning through the custody suites. This led Colin in 2009 to pioneer and trial an early intervention scheme to support veterans at the point of arrest working in conjunction with a SSAFA caseworker. 

In 2011, Colin joined the Forces Employment Charity as a Prison in Reach Support Worker, providing him with a 360-degree perspective of the veteran’s journey through the justice system.  

Project NOVA

Building on Colin’s cumulative experience, he went on to set up and later become the National Manager of the Forces Employment Charity’s Project NOVA programme in 2014, a new initiative to provide a framework that would both identify veterans at the point of arrest and actively support them to access and engage with locally delivered support.  

The need for a veteran-specific support programme in the justice system was increasingly evident, and in 2015 the Government published the Phillips Report, which reinforced the premise of Project NOVA. 

“The Phillips Report exposed the hidden reality of veterans in the justice system and underlined the need for greater awareness of veteran identity and life experiences in the sector” explains Colin. 

Driving Sustainable change: From Project NOVA to Op NOVA

In 2022 NHS England commissioned the Forces Employment Charity to deliver Op NOVA, a comprehensive support service for veterans in England in contact with the justice system.  

This commission saw Op NOVA supersede Project NOVA, incorporating the programme into the NHS’s dedicated veteran support portfolio:

Colin remains at the operational helm of the Op NOVA programme, working closely with NHS England, the FEC’s senior leadership team and Board of Trustees. 

Although integral to the strategic and operational development of OP NOVA, Colin’s core values remain rooted in veteran welfare and championing the contributions of the caseworkers: 

“Veterans are incredibly proud people and do not generally ask for help, although our work proves that once identified and supported, the outcomes for veterans in the justice system are significantly improved … the Op NOVA caseworkers do a fantastic job, their work is both life-changing and, in many instances, life-saving” says Colin. 

The scale of support available through Op NOVA is extensive and has positive impacts for the individual veteran, their families, local communities, and the entire justice system. 

In 2015 we supported a Prolific and Priority Offender (PPO)

This veteran was about to leave prison, we met with him 12 weeks prior to his release. His needs assessment identified that his two main concerns were employment and housing. This was his seventeenth custodial sentence since leaving the Services. It was also his final sentence, and he has not since reoffended. Upon his release from Prison, Op NOVA worked with him to secure both accommodation and employment.

The police analyst estimated that his offending behaviour was costing the taxpayer over £400,000 based on his previous 18 months of interaction with the justice system. 

Op NOVA generates this life-changing impact through a full package of support, comprising health, finances, legal, lifestyle, and employment support.  

What’s next for Op NOVA?

Op NOVA is now entering its second phase of delivery, with greater coverage across England’s police and probation departments. Importantly, Op NOVA is also being extended to every prison in England throughout 2024. The Forces Employment Charity has subcontracted this ‘in-prison’ aspect of work to Care After Combat. 

“I’m incredibly proud of how much Op NOVA has already achieved and believe that the foundations are in place for sustained impact. The evidence base for Op NOVA is constantly growing and I’m keen to strengthen our collaborations with justice practitioners for the benefit of veterans, communities, and society as a whole” says Colin. 

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