Ex-serviceman finds his feet with self-build scheme
Gavin Owens left the army in 2010 after six and a half years of service. Many veterans leave the military with mental and physical injuries. For Gavin, a serious head injury meant that he was unable to find suitable employment and he ended up unable to support himself financially.
“I felt trapped. I was just on my brother’s sofa – glad to have a roof over my head but no place to call home. And being out of work can be very disheartening. You get up, watch TV, go to bed over and over and it doesn’t make you feel good about yourself or included in society.”
Living in Herefordshire, where 8 per cent of the forces population in the UK resides, there are a number of social support programmes available for veterans transitioning from military life. It was at the Firstlight Trust, Gavin learned about a community self-build project.
“I just wanted to see something change in my life. I was put in touch with Alabare, an organisation that was working on a regeneration project at Waterworks Lane. The project manager from Alabare heard my story and said he would be happy to have me on site for a few days a week. It ended up being just what I needed.”
In partnership with Alabare, Longleigh Foundation and Hereforshire Council, Stonewater's Waterworks Lane project aimed to demonstrate how organisations can work with local councils and charities to provide much-needed new homes to those who need them the most.
Taking a two-pronged approach, the veterans were given the opportunity to work alongside Stonewater’s local contractor J Harper and Sons Leominster Ltd to gain valuable and transferable skills to increase their employment opportunities, whilst building new homes to support the local community. Upon completion of the project each veteran, including Gavin, was provided with their own home to rent.
“I found a sense of belonging and purpose. Everyday we were learning something new. Initially we were just going to be working on the houses but we ended up cleaning up the community garden. The lampost and the bike sheds, we concreted those in. It’s not just your own house you’re building. You get to be a part of something bigger.”
2020 was a tough year for many, but moving into his home for Christmas showed Gavin that his hard work and commitment had really paid off.
“The outbreak of Covid-19 meant we had to keep our distance from each other on site. But apart from that we were all still showing up and putting in the work. Working with the boys, we all get on and now they all live nearby – I don’t feel socially excluded. I can see them for a coffee and a chat and get back to feeling myself again - being a cheerful guy.
“It’s been a horrible year for so many so it’s the best feeling to have something good come out of it. To have my own place now and have everything that I need.”
To learn more about the project, listen to our On the Air podcast, Tackling Veteran Homelessness: Six Months On.