It is pretty familiar ground, they have issues, good folk pitch in to produce some stunning results. I really just wanted to showcase and praise what is a wonderful idea.
The DIY SOS team are going to refurbish and rebuild some derelict houses in Manchester in a bid to create some suitable accommodation for Veterans suffering from the effects of war in Afghanistan. The plan is to make them feel like a sanctuary and a place for healing, a place where they can live comfortably whilst retraining now that their lives in the military have been curtailed.
In cooperation with the local council the SOS team have acquired an entire street that had been condemned for demolition and for the purposes of starting the project, are attempting to rebuild three homes, create a veteran Support Centre and to build a designated training accommodation comprising four bedrooms for Veterans to use as a temporary base whilst training for new jobs. This veterans "village" will in itself mean there will be like minds and support literally next door if they need help as they recover and hopefully thrive.
The time frame for this feat is just twelve days! It has to be remembered that unlike the similar US shows these homes are built in Victorian Brick and so it is no easy job to build these from scratch and in some cases that is what they are having to do,the very walls holding some very leaky roofs up are being held up by will power and props.
I am really pleased to see from the outset of the show that they are labelling PTSD as a mental illness. For too long I believe soldiers, Sailors and Marines and airmen and women have been unable to express the horrors of war, admitting to it effecting their mental health and welfare seemed to indicate weakness and that would never do in the hallowed and auspicious world of military service.
I think these attitudes pervade across national boundaries as combined forces under NATO and UN banners have meant so many nationalities have fought side by side in the name of freedom. US, French , Dutch and Canadian servicemen and women have seen horrors and tragedies that we the loved ones at home could never even imagine and then they are left to deal with it all. The sheer numbers affected mean that although they try, support organisations will never be able to provide adequate assistance to every poor soul.
We know that PTSD was present in servicemen in World War One and every combat situation since, but the acceptance of it as a debilitating mental disability is only a recent thing so the fact that such a hugely popular Primetime BBC show has taken up the cause is just tremendous!
We Meet John Borge, his wife Emma and young three year old bundle of fun ,son Noah, who are all in differing ways, victims of John's PTSD. John had served with the Army for Thirteen years with the Queens Royal Lancers and was happily married to his Wife Emma. She says they were perfectly matched she the worrier and over planner and he, laid back and easygoing, but tours in Afghanistan have taken an awful toll.
He says nothing can prepare you for the pure horror of the conflict where he had witnessed body parts of his friends and small children hit in IED explosions. He has gone from being on the frontline where every comrade could rely on the next, watching out for each other ; to feeling totally alone and isolated.
His own PTSD has manifested itself as extreme anxiety where smells, sights and sounds can trigger vivid flashbacks lasting ten of fifteen seconds. The strain on his marriage was immense, where before he and Emma could talk anything through, now he felt totally incapable of communicating the depth of his experiences. He would go missing for days and Emma used to dread the day the Police arrived on the doorstep to say he had taken his own life. They separated and now John takes every opportunity to see Noah who is the only person he can relax around.
Getting a flat in Manchester had been a start for his recovery and hope for a reconciliation with Emma and Noah, but it is still hindering his recovery. Any sudden noise triggers episodes and it is impossible for him to settle so he lives in one room, unable to sleep in the bedroom and feeling Isolated and alone.
John is close to tears often in the programme when he discusses the effect this illness has had on his family, he is so totally broken and it is painful to watch him desperately trying to break free of the confinement of the total loss of confidence in himself and the world around him. He does not seem to be quite able to grasp just how many people, Veterans and Civvies alike have taken time out of their lives to help veterans get a foot back on the ladder into social inclusion again.
Trades People from all over The United Kingdom have given up paid work to come and rebuild almost from scratch this terraced street in suburban Manchester. They all have the same motivation, that they can easily give up income and time, to repay men and women who have literally put their lives on the line and paid horrendous prices for that selfless sacrifice and all in a land not their own. Watching the show I felt proud and sad that such Charity is necessary, that our service men and women are not better provided for anyway.
The second person helped in this instalment, who will be the first person in the Training Home accommodation is eighteen year old Jack Lamb, who went to Afghanistan in 2012 leaving behind Jennifer his longtime girlfriend and his mother who had experienced it all before with her husband. Serving in the Third battalion The Rifles in a IED detection unit. He knew when he served that he stood the risk of being Blown up at any time so Jennifer was always nervous and worried he might not come back.
Jack was shot by a Taliban sniper. Felt pain in his face and heard someone shouting "Lambies Dead, He's been shot in the head". The adrenaline of hearing this statement, spurred him to live. He knew he was Injured and his life changed forever . Shot in the left arm, the bullet travelled and ended behind his left eye leaving him seriously injured.
His Brain injury has left him with slurred speech, sometimes he struggles to enunciate or struggles with words and he like John he suffers PTSD and Depression, his sleep is severely interrupted nightmares and hallucinations. He says for some injuries , You can crack on and man up, but not with PTSD.
The new centre will be a Godsend, he is ready to Retrain and very eager to work again.
Daz is one of the onsite plumbers who is an ex serviceman who says that on leaving he believes he had a certain degree of PTSD that bangs of cars backfiring Like a demon just perched in his head ready to leap into action. The reason he is involved is to let Veterans know they are not alone and took two weeks off to be part of the project.
The team get a real confidence boost when Prince Harry and The Duke of Cambridge come to show their support to the project. Dressed as casually as two Princes can be, they come ready to work and full of praise for both Veterans and for this innovative way to assist them when they need help the very most.
Billy almost creates an international Incident when his calls Harry ..."Sausage" but that is just Billy 620,000 homes free in the UK, Manchester, community already built. William does a bit of painting and Harry lays some Flag stones with a big audience, but it is the chats he has with the workers that really have resonance.
Harry is adamant that this country needs to show its servicemen that we care that there is reward for giving up life and often limb.
The community element of the project is very important to William.He knows that brotherhood is pray amount to servicemen who have leant on others to live everyday in conflict zones. The family feel will be vital for recovery. When they have a setback they do not want to share the bad things with friends and family, the British Services are a proud bunch so when the provision the are given after their service is insufficient, there will be no complaints.
"They are the most modest and upstanding people you could hope to find."
The Princes do not talk from a place of ignorance. Harry has served in Afghanistan himself piloting Helicopters over the conflict zones. His involvement with injured servicemen is well documented. He founded the Invictus Games, a kind of Olympics for injured Servicepersons and has even travelled in the frozen a wastes to join a group of amputees as they raced in the Arctic. William has served the Public as a helicopter rescue pilot in Wales, many a walker or climber has looked up from a stretcher to see the Future King flying the helicopter taking them to safety and that makes me very, very Proud.
The remit was Twelve days and they managed to do what they needed in Fourteen and the Training home is ready! First to see the transformation is Jack Lamb. He is literally lost for words, he says that as he is used to army billets where you get a bed and a locker, this far surpasses his expectation. The fact that everything was donated humbles him and Nick tries to reassure him that is repayment for his Service and the kitchen and decor is a tangible proof that people care as coming home after injury can be a lonely thing.
The garden is lovely and Jack promises to looking after it. Wanted independence , knowing his brain and arm injuries have changed his life, but this opportunity will make him feel Human again, opportunity to make the best of himself.
John's reveal is even more emotional, it strikes me that his recovery will be slow as his guilt over past behaviour is just below the surface. The simplest things have massive importance here. John has to be able to see his exits. His home has been heavily soundproofed, the colours kept muted to keep things calm and peaceful. He may even be able to sleep in a bed for the first time in ages now he has a cosy cocooning bedroom. He looks exhausted mentally and physically so this home is just such a gift.
A beautiful child- friendly bedroom has been created so that little Noah has a room to come to when he comes to stay. It is little Noah that brings the biggest smiles. He starts digging up the lovely plants with his digger but it's proof he feels lie it is home. I think that John and Emma have quite some road left to travel, but if healing is possible, then this house, in this street is the place it will happen.
There is not a dry eye in the crowd when Jack and John go out to thank the workers!!
Bring on next week when we see the support centre built and the rest of the street take shape!
This project needs to be expanded, applauded and funded by more than a BBC DIY show. PTSD is a terrible affliction and the service veterans and their families deserve so much better than being sidelined and left to deal with the aftermath of war alone. I pray that more councils start using their derelict housing in such a positive and affirming way. Start to build communities in areas of deprivation from the ground up, supporting veterans and other people who will benefit from supported community living.