How community programmes help veterans to live law-abiding lives

The Forces Employment Charity supports veterans in contact with the justice system, and understands that stability is a crucial factor in preventing offending, or indeed reoffending. To help provide stability, we created a community benefit programme, Past and Present.


In June 2022 the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) estimated that 3.6% of the UK’s prison population were ex-Service personnel, with 1,768 members of the prison population confirming that they had been a member of the Armed Forces.[1] There aren’t currently statistics available for the reoffending rate specifically amongst ex-Service personnel, however the MOJ’s most recent report on overall adult reoffending rates provides a rough indication, with figures fluctuating between 22.7% and 30.6%[2] since 2009.

However statistics, by their quantitative nature, fail to explain why these figures are the case. By combining personal stories with statistics, we can start to draw a picture of the challenges that some veterans face in leading a law-abiding life.

Lack of appropriate accommodation, unemployment, mental or physical health struggles, substance abuse, isolation from family and friends, and lack of community[3] can lead to instability and increase the likelihood of offending.

Isolation and lack of community were widespread issues that affected many people in March 2020 when the UK (and the world) was forced into lockdown as a result of Covid-19. It presented a need to provide further support for ex-Forces personnel in contact with the justice system, and as such, Past and Present, a community benefit programme, was born.

Past and Present

The programme encourages veterans to survey, photograph and provide general garden maintenance for scattered war graves in the UK. Past and Present is designed to be inclusive, to instil a feeling of community amongst participants and to provide purpose, whilst also being interesting and relevant to ex-Service personnel, finding graves and histories of those who also served. During lockdown, veterans could participate in the programme by walking to local graveyards, and identifying military graves as part of their daily exercise.

The conversation continued online via a Facebook group, where veterans were encouraged to find the genealogy and history of graves and share images online with the Past and Present community, prompting further discussion. It proved hugely popular, with over five thousand images of war graves collated throughout lockdown. This wealth of data was offered to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).

Past and Present also provided virtual training, delving into the history of graves, research methods and grave restoration techniques. For some veterans this led to education opportunities through the Open University veteran scholarship scheme. Education, similarly to employment, provides stability.

Post lockdown, Past and Present shifted its focus to private memorial war graves. These are non-identifiable military graves and many have been left untended. Finding them can be a historical treasure hunt, but take a look and you will find them in practically every graveyard. The community benefit programme has since delivered group clean-ups of graves and live demonstrations from a military grave restorer, bringing the online community offline.

Veterans with community hours, who are on probation or have an out of court disposal, are increasingly taking part. Their work identifying, recording and researching graves is of local historical value, and their findings can be offered to the CWGC, local libraries, historical societies and the National Archives. The programme has also recently secured funding to work with Suffolk Probation. Veterans will be involved in Past and Present as part of their sentence, which will encourage them to give back to the community, and provide a sense of purpose and achievement.

The Forces Employment Charity provides tailored support for veterans, which can be life-changing and often life-saving, and Past and Present is an essential part of this, providing individuals with the means to live fulfilled, law-abiding lives.

Find out more about Past and Present by visiting the Facebook group or contact us via freephone 0800 917 7299 or email at [email protected].

[1] Ministry of Justice, Official Statistics, Ex-service personnel in the prison population, England and Wales, , accessed 1/11/22

[2] National statistics, Proven reoffending statistics: October to December 2020,, accessed 1/11/22

[3] West Midlands Reducing Reoffending plan,, accessed 1/11/22

Want to hear about our programmes, partnerships, events and ways that we could support you?