Ex-serviceman, Major Ken Hames, in partnership with Knightstone Housing Association are giving homeless veterans a chance to build their own homes.

Schemes like Phases and Homes 4 Heroes helps lift ex-servicemen out of homelessness and poverty by teaching them new skills

Brian Daley finally found a sense of purpose when he strapped on a tool belt and got to work fixing up a grotty, rundown flat in south London.

Five years ago the ex-serviceman was living in a hostel following the breakdown of his marriage and a battle with alcohol addiction. Having struggled for work ever since he left the army, Brian knew it was time for a fresh start. "I was a heavy drinker, very close to living on the streets," says the 40-year-old. "I took the step of going to rehab and trying to sort myself out."

His next step was finding a place on a construction training scheme run by Phases, a London-based social enterprise that offers struggling ex-servicemen a route into the building industry - giving the former forces personnel a chance to renovate empty properties and bring them back into use. Brian helped refurbish a group of empty flats in Brockley, now let out by Phases to homeless families at affordable rent levels.

"Having needed help myself, I get satisfaction knowing that I've given something back in my work," says Brian. "I can say that I've contributed something to society by creating homes for people in need."

Brian has since moved on to other construction jobs, while Phases continues to bring in new trainees and upgrade empty houses. This is just one of a handful of projects utilising the discipline of struggling ex-military men to help ease the housing crisis. In Cornwall, Craig Little, a former Royal Navy pilot from RNAS Culdrose, is also trying to tackle local housing problems by renovating derelict properties. His social enterprise - Rebuild South West - is employing ex-military personnel who may find it hard to readjust to civilian life.

"I was in the military for 27 years," explains Craig. "It was fantastic job that I loved to bits but my back injury got worse and worse and it meant that when I was discharged I was a bit lost about what to do. So I know how difficult life it can be. I came across a lot of guys who were quite depressed, PTSD kicking in, struggling for work. It seemed a terrible waste of their skills.

"You have to remember, they've gone from heroes to zeros," Craig adds. "These are guys who have been doing search and rescue, leading others through danger, and now they find they have nothing productive to do."

Craig's team - a couple of ex-servicemen and four young people from Penzance Jobcentre Plus - recently finished their first project: breathing life back into a 150-year-old sail loft in Newlyn owned by a Penzance-based charity. "It worked out brilliantly well," says Craig. "Ex-forces guys can act as mentors to the younger ones. It was great for them to stand back and look at what they had achieved together."

Craig is now looking at other properties and partner organisations in the area, determined that there is much more to be done. "You've got all these homeless families in the South West, a lot of empty properties, and a load of guys who need training or retraining. So it just makes sense to loop it all together."

As The Big Issue has revealed in recent years, some of those in most dire housing need are the ex-servicemen and women sleeping rough, struggling to cope with mental health problems and the reality of life on Civvy Street.

A recent snapshot survey of Big Issue vendors across the country shows six per cent are ex-forces. The founder of the charity Homes 4 Heroes has estimated there could be as many as 9,000 homeless ex-service personnel in Britain - with one in 10 of those in hostels, B&Bs or sleeping rough.

One inspiring project in Bristol has given homeless ex-servicemen the chance to build their own homes. The West Street community self-build scheme - set up by Ken Hames (a former Major in the armed forces) in partnership with Knightstone Housing Association - saw a group of 10 homeless ex-forces men gain NVQ qualifications in brickwork, painting and decorating as they began work on 14 self-contained two-bedroom flats. With the estate now finished, the men are renting the apartments themselves, while the other four flats have been made available for people with learning disabilities.

"The problem of homelessness for ex-service personnel has become more and more evident nationally," says Ken. "We recognised the need to engage these men in meaningful support, which has built their confidence and skills and made a huge difference to their lives."

Tapping into their own resources, some ex-military men are discovering the tools for their recovery were there all along. Giving more of them the chance to graft with bricks and mortar might just fix a few problems at once


Back to all