Reflecting on the impact of Mates4Mates

31 March 2023

Recently appointed to Head of Operations, Buzz Lawson reflects on the real impact Mates4Mates is having at our locations across Australia and online.

In my new role as Head of Operations, I have the privilege to be working with our five Regional Managers and their teams across all our regional centre locations and online, including our Business Performance team within head office. 

It’s been 8 weeks since I joined the Mates4Mates team. During this time, I’ve been racking up the frequent flyer miles and travelled to our centres in Cairns, Palmerston in the Northern Territory, Hobart (and Launceston), Milton, and our newest centre in my old hometown of Ipswich, with the Townsville centre pencilled in for a visit early next month.

My first impressions of Mates4Mates are absolutely of the people that we have working here who are making a real difference in the lives of veterans and their families every day. Having recently finished up with RSL Victoria where I was the inaugural Chief of Veteran Services, I also previously served in the Royal Australian Air Force and Royal Air Force for more than 20 years, so it’s safe to say that veteran and family care is a real passion of mine.

During my first centre visit in Cairns, Liaison Officers, Sam and Graeme opened my eyes to just how much you can do with a relatively small organisational footprint. This brand-new centre co-located within the RSL Queensland Far Northern District even had the ‘new car smell’ and yet they have a solid crew of Mates and clients turning up to a wide range of activities. 

In fact, a few of them have even registered their own lawn bowls team in a local competition after trying out one of our social connection activities and loving it. This is ‘text book’ social connection and community integration on display.

Following Cairns, I shot across to Darwin to hang out with the Top End crew in Palmerston. What a vibrant, close-knit and growing team we have up there!

In three very full days, I managed to meet about 30 Mates at a forum we hosted for the DVA Veteran Family Advocate Commissioner, Gwen Cherne. I also bumped into an old Academy classmate, Paul who is still serving and was participating in one of our WW2 Bombing of Darwin harbour cruises which liaison officer Mel expertly led as her first activity since joining the NT team. 

I also got to tour the almost finished Mates4Mates Veteran and Family Wellbeing Centre (VFWC) in Stuart Park, following NT Regional Manager, Erin and VFWC Manager, Jess around as they showed me the magnificent facility that has been purpose built to serve veterans and family members.

I managed to squeeze one week back in the brand-new head office at 100 Wickham Street in Brisbane, where our Online Regional Manager, Steve educated me on our online service delivery and I joined in on an online activity which had Mates joining in from all over the country – outback Queensland, the Gold Coast, and a few from Victoria.

Throughout all of this I have been trying to keep up with all the incredible work that Business Performance Manager, Emily and her team are doing to develop our practices and procedures so we can continue to deliver best practice and evidence-informed care and connection activities. Emily and her team are the back-end powerhouse to operations which allows most of our operations staff to remain client facing.

Finally, I headed to Tasmania with our General Manager, Emma and met with Cathy and the team. Emma and I had the great pleasure of driving to meet some stakeholders in Burnie before spending a morning with our Launceston crew in their new office and then heading back to the Hobart centre. On our travels we even managed to sneak in a famous Tassie scallop pie!

I had a great time joining Liaison Officer, Jack as he led a surfing activity. On this particular activity, we had three current serving ADF members, five veterans, a spouse and a daughter – nothing could better show our cross-generational spread of membership and appeal. 

Mates4Mates has supported almost 10,000 individual veterans and family members since 2013, with over 17,100 attendees to our social connection activities in 2022 alone, both in-person and online. I’ve discovered that we have Mates who regularly join us for social connection activities from every state in Australia and from many countries internationally. I simply didn’t realise the size and scale of the operation and I suspect many don’t because our staff just humbly go on with delivering support services to veterans and their family members!

Within just 8 weeks, Mates4Mates has shown me what can be achieved when you gather a group of highly motivated, purpose-driven veterans and professionals, support them with a trusting, open and values driven environment, then set them loose. 

I’m in awe of what has been achieved by Mates4Mates and its staff and leaders over the last 10 years as we celebrate our 10th birthday in 2023. I’m so excited to be part of setting and delivering on the strategic plan that will take us through to 2030. 

If you’re a veteran or family member impacted by service, join us at one of our locations and see the range of services for yourself! Head over to the Mates4Mates Events page to see what activities, we have coming up.

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