The EV Powered Interview

James Cameron: A man on a mission

Having served 17 years in the Royal Tank Regiment, James Cameron returned from his last tour of Afghanistan in 2011 determined to help those whose lives he had seen impacted by military service. James launched Mission Motorsport a year later, and since then, the charity has helped thousands of veterans to ‘Race, Retrain and Recover.’

As Mission Motorsport celebrates its ten year anniversary, James shares the story behind the charity and some of the most memorable moments from the last decade, whilst also detailing the impact it has had on the lives of ex-service men and women and their families.

What is the story behind Mission Motorsport?

My background is in the Army. I did 17 years in the Tank Regiment, going all around the world doing various kinds of jobs. It was brought home to us in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011 the huge privilege of service it is to be able to command Her Majesty’s soldiers. It comes with huge responsibilities to the families that you’re determined to bring home. The long-term life prospects of people can be quite fundamentally changed by military service and to try and ensure that people have good outcomes was something that I very much felt personally connected to.

On returning from Afghanistan in 2011, I had the opportunity to shape how the Ministry of Defence (MoD) delivers and helps have a positive effect on an area of recovery sport which is sort of related to the automotive world. The reason why I was engaged in recovery sport was because I was an instructor; I’d been racing for some years, despite the Army’s best efforts. It was my connections through motorsport and in the automotive industry to raise money for service charities and causes.

In May 2011, I had a population of people who I was very keen on ensuring that they had some good outcomes from what they did and we had the opportunity to connect it with a bit of sport, which very quickly demonstrated could lead to people ending up in jobs and employment as a result of it.

Having jumped up and down and raged at MoD for neglecting something that I could see lots of potential for, I was ordered to write a paper for MoD at the end of 2011 and made some recommendations. I had to look at how it was being done for other sports, things like the Invictus Games, and made the case for how motorsport could contribute towards that as well.

Mission Motorsport was formed as the force’s motorsport charity on the 1st March 2012, and so we’re a little bit over ten years old.

What is Mission Motorsport’s ‘mission’?

We have a core moto which is ‘race, retrain, recover’ because it’s not actually about the sport. It’s about using the sport or the love of automotive in order to be able to help people and take them on a journey of recovery, and to be able to help them to reach their potential after military service and whether that’s those who directly serve themselves and being overseas, but also the families who have a job of resettling after military service and can often find themselves at quite a disadvantage as a result of the fairly unique life journey which they’ve had, which is fundamentally about serving the country.

Things like the Armed Forces Covenant help us and companies to find ways, without positive discrimination, to use the right tools to help them recognise the qualities of this extraordinary group of people and to harness them to their best potential.

We’ve been able to help more than 1,100 veterans find jobs with Jaguar Land Rover, and that came about following the first Invictus Games in 2014. We launched with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders the Mission Automotive initiative; a sector level initiative across the UK to help companies to do good Armed Forces engagements. We’re incredibly proud to have done engagement pieces for Toyota, Tesla, Peugeot, Citroen DS, Vauxhall, Fiat, and all these amazing manufacturers. The Stellantis Group signed the Armed Forces Covenant last year, and Lotus has such exciting things coming out of Norfolk. Companies like Morgan are looking for service talents to find their people, and that’s something they’re really proud of and are using to really benefit the company.

How does Mission Motorsport’s work relate to electric vehicles?

We could see huge changes coming across the industry in terms of the skillsets that we were needed by the whole of the UK automotive sector, and not just those making new vehicles but those who have got anything to do with the automotive journey, whether it’s responding to them when they’re broken down at the side of the road or indisposed, high voltage competencies were going to be absolutely fundamental to the ongoing success of UK automotive industry, and we sat down with the Ministry of Defence to determine what is needed and what is there.

We very quickly began to realise that it didn’t make sense and it was only when you ask some fundamental questions that there’s suddenly this Eureka moment which is that the MoD doesn’t use high voltage in the same way that civilians use high voltage. The MoD decided arbitrarily in the 1940s to use high voltage not for anything over 60 volts, but to use it for over 1000 volts. Typical EV voltage range, which is 400 to 800 volts, is used commonly across all three services by just about everyone because it’s generator power, but it’s not called high voltage. So you’ve got this entire generation of service leaders and veterans that have got the behaviours and the skillsets and the competencies, because they’ve been doing it for all of their careers, but they don’t know they’ve got it. They don’t know that’s high voltage and the employers on the other side don’t know that there is a whole bunch of people who are incredibly competent, so it was up to us to join these two things up.

How does the charity support people on a day-to-day basis?

For those who are most in need, we run a recovery sport calendar of lovely, engaging events which are all about using automotive to get people off the sofa and engaged. If you give people the opportunity to do something that’s quite cool and it can break the inertia that builds for those who aren’t very satisfied with where their lives have ended up and just help get them out. Once you have them, you can do all sorts of things with them and it makes it so much easier to breakdown some of the barriers and it helps them lean into doing stuff that perhaps they wouldn’t.

At the other end of the scale we’re helping industry, so moving leaders within industry to help them cue the tools that they use to access and harness people. Whether these are HR strategies or whether they’re broader and looking at employee satisfaction. Because we speak the language of both service labour and those who served in the forces, with the automotive industry we can help them use tools to allow them to access a population of immense potential who we as a country have spent a fortune on and turn nothing to commercial success, community building within companies or wider help with a company that that is talking about a series of values. They see things which resonate across from the service audience. There are some wonderful behaviours they can tap into.

What have been some of the highlights for the charity over the last decade?

There are a number of things which you look at, the sort of life and gestation of the charity and go: “Those were really significant moments” and there are some really lovely things, whether it’s Invictus Games or whether it’s been through Royal Foundation recognition or through industry.

Launching Mission Automotive; I’m incredibly proud to launch something alongside the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. For the bit of me that can still remember scribbling potential names on a beermat in a pub somewhere in Oxford, that’s pretty surreal. That feels like Guernsey launching a space programme. That was in 2019 and it felt like a huge step at the time.

A year later, Covid struck, and you think ‘good lord, is this going to see it off?’ but we’re so busy. There’s so much demand on us now as part of SMMT member services helping companies to do fantastic things and that, in turn, is benefiting the community. It makes me incredibly proud that that that we’re part of the kernel of that wonderful thing that’s brought together these bodies.

The MoD, having recognised the success of that, asked us to look at new sectors, including the renewable sector, and to help in the government’s desire to support skills transition to help people enter renewable green sector jobs. And so last year, quietly, we launched Mission Renewable, and we’ve been putting together the building blocks of Mission Renewable that’s using many of those lessons that we’ve drawn out with the automotive industry in order to support service leaders, veterans and their families into jobs in the green sector.

Has the objective of Mission Motorsport changed over the years?

When we spoke earlier about the Invictus Games and our work with Jaguar Land Rover, and for all of those seminal moments which have been fantastic for the organisation, the thing that still gets me out of bed in the morning is the little stuff. The things that resonate most with me and in which I feel immense pride is somebody getting a job that otherwise they didn’t feel they would do, or somebody having the confidence to reach out and support another member of their community where perhaps they otherwise wouldn’t have done, or families that find opportunity through networking that we’ve loosely been able to do. Those are the things that absolutely still resonate with me every day and it’s why I’m so fortunate in my job that I get to do something that I love.

How did Covid-19 impact your fundraising efforts?

It had a really profound impact. We’re a delivery organisation, so we’ve never been sat on a foundation or a pile of money to allow us to do our work. We, broadly speaking, do our work and then remember that we need to go and do a lot of fundraising in order to allow us to do the next bit.

We have to work hard in order to build up some reserves, and we go into Covid where all of our event-based fundraising is turned off overnight. The demands on the charity were greater and consequently, that gave us some challenges that we were doing all that we could to try and step up to meet, but we’re very much output driven.

How can people support the charity?

Get in touch! We’re hugely grateful when people do little bits and pieces for us on any scale. It makes a massive difference and there’s lots of help and guidance on the website that people can lean into. We’re always grateful for offers of volunteering and practical support in able for us to deliver the events on our calendar.

For those particularly who are interested in going but wonder how they can get involved or are interested in employment, then get in touch us and we’d be delighted to join them up with the right support.

What can we look forward to on the Mission Motorsport calendar?

The culmination of our sporting year is across Remembrance Weekend, with Race of Remembrance. That is how the motorsport in the community in the UK marks that weekend; there’s go-karting, an online racing event, all of which we welcome participation in. We then have this incredible 12-hour race in Anglesey, as well as other supporting activities which happen around the country at the same time.

The Race For Remembrance in 2021
The Race For Remembrance in 2021

Race for Remembrance is something we’re really proud of. It’s a wonderful thing in a celebration of recovery, rather than it being something that’s a bit more down in the heel. It’s a wonderful way of uplifting our audience.

Right at the beginning of the year, the National Transition event is where we takeover Silverstone, not just the GP circuit but the wing, in order to highlight the amazing employment opportunities that there are to the wider audience of service leaders, veterans and their families. We’ll have supercars taking people out on the track, we’ll also have employers and veterans from across the renewable industry, for example, coming together in order to help lift and inspire a network for those who are hoping to follow in their footsteps.

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