Kevin Gray’s first rocking horse commission came from Lady Houghton, wife of the former Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS). It was a very proud moment for Kev. The journey from novice woodworker to becoming a member of the Guild of Rocking Horse Makers started after he saw one being made at Help for Heroes Phoenix House Recovery Centre in Catterick. He then enrolled on a seven-month course held at the Recovery Centre: “The course was brilliant. I really enjoyed the camaraderie in the woodshed and the fantastic instruction.
“It gave me a new purpose in life because it gave me a skill, one I was really proud of.”
Kev had always wanted to join the military, ever since he was a child. Joining the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment, he later moved to the Royal Artillery and served for seven and a half years in the UK and abroad, including Northern Ireland and the Gulf War. It wasn’t until he was on an exercise following these tours that he realised how much his time on operations had affected him. Diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Kev was medically discharged in 1995, it was an abrupt end to a career he thought he would be in for life:
“PTSD has a massive effect on your life. One day you feel as if you’re bullet proof and the next you’re weak as a feather.
“I was absolutely distraught when I was told I was going to be medically discharged. The only thing I’d ever wanted to be was a soldier and to have that taken away from me due to a mental health disorder was very difficult to deal with.”
It was during a particularly tough period nearly 17 years later, that Kev contacted Help for Heroes. The Charity began supporting him before inviting him to become an Ambassador: “From there my life changed for the better. The support from Help for Heroes has been absolutely incredible.”
This role has provided Kev with a platform to share his story with other Veterans and Service Personnel that Help for Heroes support:
“I’m proud to be an Ambassador, it gives me a sense of purpose. Speaking to people in the same situation makes them realise they’re not alone. With Help for Heroes and the Band of Brothers, there’s a massive feeling of belonging.
“I missed the Army for almost 20 years but for the past two and a half years I’ve been involved with the Charity, I no longer miss it. I feel like I’m part of it all again which is fantastic.”
The 47-year-old has taken part in various activities through Help for Heroes such as wheelchair basketball, archery and kayaking which have all helped build his self-esteem, but it’s the rocking horses that remain his passion: “I’m creating history because I know they’ll last a long time. I’ll happily pass on what I’ve been taught to anyone who wants to know how to make them.
“I’ll always support my fellow Veterans. Help for Heroes has allowed me to reach my potential and provided me with the tools to get there. There are many Veterans out in the community with an abundance of skills and talent and if that can be nurtured then they can also reach their full potential and become a force for good too.”
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