Based in West Wales, 36-year-old Matt runs his own successful business as a tree surgeon. He named it ‘Cope Y Coed’, which means ‘Cope of the wood’ in Welsh, and is also a nod to his Navy nickname of Copey. He is fully booked most weeks, and still feels a sense of amazement every time he completes a climb, but is making sure he has time off to spend with his wife and two young children. “I can’t quite believe how far I’ve come; I never dreamed I’d be able to do something like this.”
During Navy sporting activity, Matt injured his left leg and hip in 2010 and, despite numerous operations, was left with a severe limp and ongoing pain. While in hospital recovering from one of the surgeries, he caught the E. coli infectino, making him very ill and leading him to develop a fear of germs. Matt was eventually diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Depression and Anxiety.
Matt was due to be medically discharged from the military in the summer of 2015 and was told by an Army and then civilian doctor that he would most likely need to be signed off work indefinitely. Alternatively, at best, all he could hope for was a sedentary, desk-bound job. For someone who had joined the Army reservists and then the Navy, precisely because he wanted to be active, this was a difficult verdict to accept and affected his mental health.
In the months leading up to his medical discharge, Matt got involved with a project to build an Iron Age roundhouse at Tedworth House. This turned out to be life changing. “The roundhouse project was brilliant. We had experts teaching us all kinds of skills, timber framing and thatching, as well as learning the history. It was hand built using traditional methods by a core group of 16 of us – serving and Veterans, all with life-changing mental and physical problems.
“I loved being outside and learning. I made life-long friends and as time went on I got stronger mentally and physically. It opened my mind to what I could achieve once I left the Forces and was instrumental in what I am doing now. The project was run alongside the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and they invited me to try chainsaw training. Turned out I was quite good at it!”
While Matt was working on the Roundhouse he also completed a Help for Heroes Pathfinder course at Tedworth House. “The military-led transition programme was good, but Pathfinder was more holistic. It was instrumental in my recovery – giving me faith that I could have a career I loved after leaving the Navy. I went through a lot of emotions on the course, which was hard, but the Psychological and Wellbeing team at Tedworth House made sure I was looked after.
“Everyone at Help for Heroes promised: ‘the day that you leave, we will be there for you’. I wasn’t in a good place at the time and didn’t believe them, but they have been. In addition to the Roundhouse and Pathfinder, I’ve been offered psychological support, the opportunity to retrain as a tree surgeon and help setting up my business.
“I still have bad days physically and mentally but the Band of Brothers and my tree surgeon fraternity support me. We look out for one another like in the military. But, honestly? Without the money donated to Help for Heroes by the public, I don’t know where I would be now.”