Tea & Medals, a new podcast from military experts BFBS, sits down with men and women who have received the UK’s...
There’s no base like home
Stoll is the leading provider of supported housing for Veterans. Most people who leave the Armed Forces transition effectively back into civilian life, but not everyone does. Stoll supports the most vulnerable Service leavers – like Alex – by providing them with an affordable home to rent and the support they need to lead independent lives.
Alex joined the Army in 2008 when he was 21, serving for six years, including two operational tours. He served with the Queen’s Royal Hussars and 2 Rifles, leaving the Army as a Captain.
‘I grew up watching a lot of films and had always been inspired by the thought of leading men in combat. I wondered if I had what it took, so I went to Sandhurst. It turned out I did. No one really knows what they’re letting themselves in for when they sign on the dotted line – imagination, even with training, is no substitute for reality. Of course, there were some incredibly tough moments – life-changing moments – but the overall experience, getting to do that thing I’d always dreamed about, is something I am incredibly proud of. I enjoyed my time in service.
‘When I left the Army, I had to deal with some drastic changes: how I lived my life, no longer being surrounded by my Army family. I chose to pursue a career as an actor, a left-of-arc choice from what I would have ever considered as a younger man. I went from a well-paid career to really struggling financially. I struggled with a lot of anger, impatience. I couldn’t control elements of my life the same way I’d been able to as a soldier. I had to accept that things had fundamentally changed for me. I lived in shared accommodation in south London and eventually ended up getting evicted. I spent eight months homeless, couch surfing from friend to friend.
‘I was angry for a long time. I was aware that the likelihood of me getting social housing was low, very low, even as a born Londoner. Initially I tried to seek help on my own. I went to Wandsworth Council and it came to nothing. Asking for help is hard for Veterans. I was struggling – mentally, financially, emotionally – and I remember clearly, on my birthday, in the middle of the street, I just … broke. That was the first time I asked for help. Admitting you need help is the hardest thing to do, but once you’ve acknowledged that and realised that you can’t just grind through it, there are people and organisations out there who want to help Veterans when they need it.
‘I came across Stoll when I was researching theatre companies and found out about the Soldier’s Arts Academy (founded by Stoll). At this point I was on my third couch, living out of a couple of grip bags. I had nothing to lose so I sent an email, jumped on the tube and headed off to a meeting. Stoll looked at a range of housing options for me. As soon as I was put in touch with Stoll’s outreach team, I had an advocate. Developing relationships with local authorities is vital and, having been referred by Stoll, I got a lot further on in the process of being housed by the council. I was actually found a house by Stoll itself in January 2017 and, after such a long time of not having my own space, it feels amazing to have my own flat. Ironically I was standing in the kitchen of my new home when I got a call from Wandsworth Council telling me there was now a vacancy with them!
‘Having my own home has meant that I can pursue my career in the arts, in peace, from a stable base, something I’ve not had since leaving the Forces. I work in film now – acting, directing and writing. Having a home is just one piece of the puzzle. Having a base is something to stand on. The rest is a work in progress. I am very aware of just how lucky I am to have been housed. Although the last couple of years have been acutely testing, seeing the results of the help I received from Stoll has pushed me to help other Veterans in their journey and I now spend my free time working with Horseback UK, helping wounded Veterans on a ranch up in Scotland using Western horses. When you’ve received help yourself, there is no better feeling than knowing you can help others too.
‘Any Veteran who is in a similar situation to the one I faced, just reach out. Don’t break yourself in the process. Soldiers tend to get their heads down and crack on; we aren’t trained to ask for help, we’re trained to be resilient. Regardless of your rank, just reach out. To charities, friends, family … anyone. Just remember: you’re not on your own.’
Find out more
Stoll has been providing support to the Veteran community for more than 100 years and is here to support the next generation of Veterans. For more information about finding a home with Stoll or accessing support, please visit www.stoll.org.uk or call the Outreach Team on 020 7385 2110.
Stoll’s drop-in runs every second Wednesday of the month at its Fulham site (see above), in the Community Hall
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