July 8th 2024

Employer support is vital for national security, say speakers at inaugural Regional Engagement with Defence Conference in Nottingham


The East Midlands hosted a first-of-its-kind conference last month, enabling businesses like UK powerhouse Boots and globally recognised Toyota to join with senior military figures at the inaugural Regional Engagement with Defence (RED).

In the opening keynote, General Sir Richard Barrons KCB CBE set the pace for the day, illustrating the increasingly dangerous world we face, giving context to ongoing global conflicts and the importance of Reserve Forces.

The former Commander of the Joint Forces Command made the compelling case for why Britain’s own Reserves should be bolstered to play a more significant role in national defence and security, describing it as a cost-effective repository of advanced skills which has the ability to deploy on mass.


Supportive employers are essential to building that important deterrence, said the retired General, who served in Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.

General Barrons said: “As UK citizens, in order to secure yourselves, your families and your communities, you are going to have to commit to a far bigger role for the Reserves in the Armed Forces than we‘ve had in lived experience.”

He added: “There is nothing about the world that I have described to you which means the UK can prevail unless at the heart of it we have this unshakeable warrior spirit in uniform but also in civil society.”

You can find General Sir Richard Barrons KCB CBE keynote speech on our YouTube channel here.

Critical to national defence

Reserve Forces play a critical role in national defence and security, from countering threats, peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts abroad, to supporting communities and national resilience at home.

The Maritime Reserves, Army Reserves, and RAF Reserves make up roughly 18% of Britain’s Armed Forces, and they’re actively recruiting.

A chorus of thanks to the Forces-friendly employers in the room followed General Barrons’ speech as senior figures from the Royal Navy, Army and RAF took to the stage.

Sir John Peace CVO CStJ, Chair of the Midlands Engine, also echoed General Barrons’ rallying cry and stressed that defence is an essential investment for our country’s prosperity.


He was followed by Group Captain Simon Briggs, the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) lead for Employer Engagement; James Cameron, CEO of Mission Motorsport; local businessman Mark Goldby DL; Commander Phil Sparke, Royal Naval Reserves; Lieutenant Colonel Duncan Lowe, of Army Training Regiment Grantham; and Major Sarah Shergold of Derbyshire Army Cadets.

In the audience were His Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire, Professor Veronica Pickering MBS and His Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of Rutland, Dr Sarah Furness PhD, as well as dozens of representatives from Silver and Gold Award holders of the Defence Employer Recognition Scheme (ERS).

ERS is for employers who demonstrate excellent support and advocacy for Reserves, Cadet Force Adult Volunteers, military spouses and wider forces families.

Bigger and better

Stuart Williams OBE, Chief Executive of East Midlands Reserve Forces and Cadets Association, said: “Our inaugural Regional Engagement with Defence Conference has been a great success.

“Our keynote speakers provided incredible insights into what mutually-beneficial relationships between Defence and business look like and why they are so important.

“It has also been a rewarding networking opportunity for our region’s greatest Armed Forces ambassadors to share ideas and best practise.

“We look forward to making the conference even bigger and better when it returns in 2025.”

Luke Parker, Managing Director of Acres Engineering, added: “The Regional Engagement with Defence Conference was a real eye-opener, outlining the current landscape within Defence.

“The keynote speeches from General Barrons and Sir John Peace painted a vivid picture of why supportive employers are so important to our country’s defence and security.

“As a Gold Award holder, we’re proud to play our part and encourage others to do what they can too.”

Group Captain Simon Briggs, Assistant Head of Reserves Employer Engagement at the Ministry of Defence, said: “The Regional Engagement with Defence was a superb day that gave businesses a unique opportunity to connect with Defence.

“They heard first-hand the latest updates, activities and challenges the Services are facing, whilst allowing Defence colleagues the ability to garner vital business atmospherics and dynamics from the delegates throughout the day’s networking sessions.

“For those East Midlands businesses wanting to find out more about partnering with Defence and the mutual benefits this can bring, this is a must. I look forward to the next one.”

Warrant Officer Janice Scott, SO3 Engagement Officer (East Midlands) in the Royal Navy, added: “This was an extremely successful pilot event that raised employers’ awareness of the threats and difficulties facing the nation.

“It was great to hear that industry partners and employers are keen to have more engagement with the services and discuss how we can better support each other in the future.”

Find out more about the Employer Recognition Scheme in our beginner’s guide.