Help for Heroes has committed further funding to Sporting Force, a charity set up by a wounded veteran to offer other injured and sick veterans work placements at professional sport clubs.
Sporting Force was launched by Tommy Lowther after he completed the Help for Heroes Pathfinder Experience and Business Experience course. The charity helped more than 100 veterans last year upon receiving an £80,000 grant from Help for Heroes, who has now pledged to grant fund a further £115,000.
For over 15 years, Tommy battled PTSD demons which brought him to the brink of suicide. Having grown up in a small town in County Durham, he described how he felt like “a boy in a man’s world” when he was posted to Northern Ireland at just 18-years-old. Serving with the Fifth Battalion Light Infantry, every day Tommy lived in relentless fear for his life. He faced a constant stream of petrol bombs, bottles, bricks and burning tyres being thrown and was even set on fire.
“I was leaning against a crowd control obstacle with my armadillo shield and a petrol bomb came towards me. I was dowsed. I remember opening my eyes and seeing flames lick up underneath my visor. I got pulled into the crowd, stamped on, kicked and punched. It was terrifying, it felt like an eternity.
“At 18, it puts a lot of things into perspective. The hostility, that alone is frightening. I certainly had my eyes opened.”
PTSD wheels started turning for Tommy when he returned from exercise in Gibraltar.
“PTSD is a way of life and it’s a dark and scary place. You genuinely feel like the world would be a better place without you. I couldn’t see how to get past it. I thought I’d do the world a favour.”
With his PTSD all-consuming, Tommy lost his first job after leaving the military. However, they persuaded him to get in touch with Help for Heroes which is when things started to change. He took part in a career recovery programme, Help for Heroes Pathfinder Experience, and from there, Sporting Force was born.
“Pathfinder literally saved my life,” he said. “It didn’t pull me out of the hole. It gave me the tools to pull myself out of the hole.
“It flipped from PTSD having a hold of me to me having a hold of PTSD. I wasn’t going to let it control me anymore.”
Working in partnership with professional sport clubs, Sporting Force offers work placements in areas such as hospitality, marketing, ticketing, coaching and physio.
Former Lance Corporal in the Royal Logistics Corps, Marcus Williams, who suffers from fits and seizures due to a brain injury, has benefited personally from Sporting Force.
“Without Sporting Force I would have stayed depressed in my room, doing nothing and feeling sorry for myself. They put me on a course with Queens Park Rangers and it was one of my best decisions I’ve ever made. It got me socialising again and speaking to other squaddies in the same situation.
“The next thing that really turned the table for me is when I got invited along to go on the Emirates Stadium tour. I’m a passionate Arsenal fan so that was one of the best feelings in the world.”
Through his relationship with Sporting Force, Marcus said he now has the confidence to seek full-time employment, hopefully through his local club, Portsmouth FC.
“None of this would have happened if it wasn’t for Sporting Force and the funding Help for Heroes give. I wasn’t in a good frame of mind until these opportunities came along.”
Tommy added: “I am so grateful to Help for Heroes for the continued support I receive year in year out. With their help over the last 12 months, Sporting Force has now become a real contender in the sporting world. Last year, we helped over 100 veterans, with a number of those finding paid employment. 2017 is already shaping up to be a fantastic year. Without the continued support from Help for Heroes, none of this would have been achieved. ”
Claire Barnes, Head of Grants at Help for Heroes, said: “Help for Heroes is all about getting the very best support to the wounded servicemen and women and their families whose lives are changed by their injuries and illness. We are delighted to be able to work with other organisations and charities such as Sporting Force to ensure that the wounded and their relatives get the speedy support and opportunities they so richly deserve.”