[A] Dalton-in-Furness man, who suffers from mental and physical illness as a result of his military career, has found purpose and solace through working with young people at the Drop Zone.
Kenny Brown, who spent 20 years in the Infantry, battles with constant pain. During his army career, he underwent four operations on his back – weakened by the weight of the kit he had to carry during surveillance duties in Northern Ireland – to no avail.
Despite eventually being told that he was “beyond repair”, Kenny was determined to continue serving his country. He transferred from the 5th Bn The Royal Regiment of Scotland to REME where he began working as a training instructor. But, after four years, his injuries and pain got to the point where he had to choose between finishing his career or ending up wheelchair-bound.
“It was a devastating choice to have to make,” said Kenny who had regarded the army as a career for life.
In addition, he was diagnosed with PTSD, related to his time in Afghanistan. Kenny and his family – wife Helen and children then Chloe 12, Josh 9 – moved to Cumbria where Helen grew up. But for two years, he hardly left the house and was unable to envisage a future in any shape or form.
“My wife had work; the kids had school and it felt like I had nothing. I was sinking into a very dark place,” admits Kenny. “I had constantly put my military career first, before anything, and that had destroyed me.”
As an experienced trainer with qualifications in coaching and mentoring, Kenny had been advised to use his resettlement pay to train as an NVQ assessor, which he did. But because he has good days, followed by bad days, he knew he couldn’t commit to a regular job and didn’t see how he could make use of his new qualification.
The turnaround came when the 42-year-old attended a Pathfinder course at Help for Heroes Recovery Centre, Phoenix House in Catterick.
The three phases of Pathfinder are known as Inspire, Enable and Support and do just that. They are designed to help wounded, injured and sick veterans and Serving personnel learn more about themselves in terms of strengths, skills, likes and dislikes, as well as identify opportunities for a purposeful future role – whether that be in fulfilling paid work, voluntary work or finding enjoyable hobbies.
“Staff there said they could help me – and they did! It was a complete shock to me,” said Kenny. “Pathfinder helped me to focus on what was around me, how to use the skills that I already had.”
The course gave Kenny the confidence to contact his local cadet attachment and ask if he could help in any way. He was told that the youngsters would ‘adore’ him. Not only that, they fast-tracked him through an instructor’s course so that he could assist in a meaningful way that made the most of his talents.
Boosted by this reaction, Kenny then attended a recruitment fair in Barrow-on-Furness for volunteers with youth organisations, which is where he came across Drop Zone. The group provides a range of services, information and support to young people aged 11-21 years with similar aims to Help for Heroes – to motivate its beneficiaries and enable them to realise their full potential and become active members of the community.
That was in July, 2016. Kenny volunteered to work with the organisation and has not looked back. He has even been on a few courses that enable him to help children with mental illness as he knows, more than most people, how important it is to get support sooner rather than later.
“I can hand on heart say that, if I hadn’t gone to Phoenix House Recovery Centre, I don’t think I would be here,” he admits. “I was in a dark hole and not receiving any support. My wife didn’t realise how bad I was but, now, she has said how proud she is of what I am doing – I am no longer just sitting in a stupor but am helping others improve their lives.”
Drop Zone Manager, Sue Johnson, said Kenny had been a welcome addition to the organisation in both his support for teaching staff and help with the youth club.
“The majority of staff and volunteers are female – we struggle to get male role models which, given the background of some of our young people, is what they really need. Kenny has been brilliant with them and they use him as a sounding board,” said Sue.
“He has also been teaching them skills that he gained in the army, such as map reading. He too is learning a lot – we see him soaking up information and advice like a sponge. He is a real asset!”
*For veterans who, unlike Kenny, can’t or feel unable to visit one of its Recovery Centres, Help for Heroes has launched an internet-based service to encourage its beneficiaries to help themselves improve their overall health and wellbeing.
Throughout the summer, on social media and the Help for Heroes website, there will be nutrition tips, advice on how to relax and sleep better, and sharing the health benefits of getting outdoors, as well as a series of yoga videos.
John Crudgington, Head of Health and Physical Wellbeing at Help for Heroes, said: “Improving wellbeing is vital to recovery. It is not about being supremely fit, but staying active and adopting healthy lifestyle behaviours. It’s about our Heroes getting the tools they need to be calmer, healthier, and more resilient – to be their best.”