Ex-serviceman finds a new start thanks to self-build

From cold winter months sleeping in his van to now having his own cosy home and a new cyber security career in sight, it’s full steam ahead for one ex-serviceman.

Fred At SOS Event

Back in 2018, Fred was in a nasty motorcycle accident, which left him with a shattered wrist and several broken ribs and unable to work. As a result, he could no longer afford to stay in his home.

Around the same time, Fred’s mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and so he made the decision to move back to Hereford to take care of her.

Six months after she passed, he was told he could no longer stay in his mother’s home and so, Fred spent the next five months sleeping across the front seats of his small van – over a cold winter.

Reflecting on the time, Fred said: “I was in survival mode. All I could do was focus on making it to the next day. When you’re homeless, you realise the value of a stable home more than ever and you start to lose hope that you’ll get back on your feet.”

Though he hadn’t lived in Herefordshire long enough to bid on any rental properties, he was eventually referred to the council’s homeless team who supported him in finding a flat in Leominster. The Herefordshire Council homeless team put Fred in touch with a royal armed forces charity who then introduced him to Stonewater’s self-build community project on Waterworks Lane.

The idea behind the self-build scheme was to enable six veterans to build their own homes whilst learning new, transferable skills to widen their employment opportunities and provide them with stability.

The project brought together a number of local charities and organisations to demonstrate how they could successfully work with one another to tackle the housing crisis. This included Herefordshire Council, Alabaré, the Longleigh Foundation and local contractor J Harper and Sons Ltd – who worked directly with the veterans on site.

Fred has spent more than 15 years on building sites around the country doing everything from groundwork to repairing listed buildings. This project enabled him to put his existing knowledge to good use by contributing to the 19 brand-new homes on Waterworks Lane.

Unlike some of his peers on the project who have been gaining training and qualifications in the building sector, Fred can’t work on sites in the long-term due to the injuries he’s sustained from his accident. However, the project has offered him the stability to train for a role in cyber security.

Speaking about how working with the other veterans fed into the experience, Fred said: “I have made several new friends through the project, and I feel this was one of the most rewarding aspects, especially as many, like myself, had previously been homeless before the self-build scheme. I feel like part of a small community here now.”

Disruption from the pandemic pushed the completion date back on multiple occasions but Fred was able to successfully move in last December in time to make it comfortable and a safe place to reconnect with his children.

“I don’t know where I’d be without it this scheme. It has shone a bright light on a previously dark looking future. I must thank Stonewater for funding the build and giving me a new home, I can be proud of.”

“I still remember the launch day, and meeting Stonewater’s team including some of the directors, who were genuinely interested in the scheme, and what it could truly offer to the people involved when completed.”

“I really hope this type of scheme is rolled out across the country, there are so many other deserving people, who would really benefit, as I have done. I really can't thank everyone enough for their time and efforts in bringing this scheme to fruition.”

Fred Sheehan served in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) as Vehicle Mechanic.

To learn more about the project, listen to our On the Air podcast, Tackling Veteran Homelessness: Six Months On: