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A former Downing Street adviser has launched a project in Scotland to develop entrepreneurialism and skills around military bases.
Sarah Stone, an external relations adviser to David Cameron while he was Prime Minister and a former member of the Royal Signals, hopes the initiative will channel vital talent to local businesses and help bridge the skills gap.
Stone, whose husband still serves in the army, has joined forces with other working military wives to set up a pilot co-working space at the Leuchars army base in Fife. The project has been inspired by the Scottish Government’s ‘Can Do Places’ initiative. This aims to help regenerate urban and rural communities by turning redundant buildings into places for entrepreneurial activity.
“It’s currently virtually impossible to maintain a career and hold down a ‘normal’ 9-5 job if you’re married to someone in the military,” Stone explains. “There are thousands of highly-skilled, qualified military spouses and partners all over the country who want to work, but can’t.
“We thought if we could provide an office on a military base where spouses could work for themselves, it might also provide a conduit for employers and businesses to tap into the skills that are lying dormant in these communities.”
Stone and some other military wives initially opened the Leuchars co-working space as a small pilot scheme in September 2017.
“The response has been fantastic,” Stone says. “We’ve started businesses, got people onto training courses and helped others find work and learn new skills.
“We’ve even now got people who are leaving the forces contacting us to ask if we can use our network to help them transition into civilian employment – so it’s clear that the benefits aren’t only limited to spouses.”
Stone says there remains an enormous amount of unconscious bias towards the spouses or partners of people in the army, navy or RAF.
“There’s this idea that we sit around baking cakes and singing in choirs, which is completely out of date,” she says. “The reality is that modern military spouses are accountants, lawyers, doctors, engineers, nurses, teachers, graphic designers, web designers…Pretty much every industry or occupation you can imagine.”
In a poll of 2,000 military spouses, Stone found that almost 60 per cent wanted to use their existing skills and talents to start a business – but only 14 per cent were already working for themselves.
“That means there’s a huge gap between the number people who want to be self-employed and the number who are. That’s a huge opportunity to create thousands of entrepreneurs.”
The Ministry of Defence estimates that around 65,000 regular trained service personnel are married or in a civil partnership.
“Military spouses in Aldershot, Catterick, Portsmouth, Brize Norton and elsewhere who have heard about our project are now asking if they can have one too,” Stone says.
“We’d love to have one of these in every garrison throughout the whole of the UK. Imagine how powerful it would be if we had a network of these places, tapped into the very best professional civilian networks around bases? So that whenever someone moved to an area, there was somewhere they could go to find employers who might want their skills and expertise? At the same time, we would be providing civilian communities and businesses around military bases access to the incredible talent that’s currently lying there untapped.”