Building on Up

5 November 2019 | West and South WEst England

Andrew Harvey

Brilliant charity helps ex-veterans into construction jobs

An amazing charity is providing crucial skills training and support to former veterans hoping to find new careers in the construction industry.

Since it launched four years ago, Building Heroes has helped more than 700 ex-veterans back into work and by next March they are on course to have worked with over a thousand. They offer a free five-week training course in property maintenance among other projects.

Co-founder and chief executive Brendan Williams, 61, says: “Our aim is to tackle unemployment amongst those who have kept us safe by offering them a seamless transition to a new career in construction.

“There is a perception that ex-military people are mad, bad or sad. But most are well adjusted grown ups who just need a second career. We can offer them a life-changing career opportunity.”

Andrew Harvey, 55, is just one success story. For him graduating was so much more than a certificate in his hand - it was the hope of a new future in the building industry as a self-employed handyman.

Andrew was medically discharged from the army in 2014 after 34 years of service. Suffering from PTSD and recovering from a number of physical injuries, he was one of approximately 120,000 unemployed military veterans of working age in Britain.

Unsure of what the future held, he found a new direction when he heard about the charity Andrew, from Bridport in Dorset, got a place on a course at their Trowbridge centre after his son Richard saw it advertised on a leaflet. He was struggling to find work after serving around the world, including Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo. 

Following his discharge his life began to unravel as he struggled with back and knee injuries. He started to drink heavily to help him sleep and stop the nightmares. His marriage ended and in 2016 he was rushed to hospital after his heart stopped. Thankfully he has mostly recovered and his new wife Alexandra is supporting him emotionally too. 

“It has been tough, but my wife has helped me and I have also been greatly supported by my local Baptist Church, St Bethany, since leaving the Army.”

Coincidentally, Andrew’s son Richard was also medically discharged from the army due to chronic stress this year. The pair decided to do the course together.

Andrew says: “Before I did the course I had never held even held a paintbrush in my hand. Now I have done up two houses, and I am looking into a whole new career. But it has been so much more than getting a level 1 building certificate. Far and away the best thing about the course is what it gave me, and gives others, in terms of picking us up. In terms of making you feel good again inside, it is absolutely brilliant and for me, it has honestly saved my life.”

Richard, meanwhile has an interview lined up and is also feeling very positive about his future.

Brendan adds: “The charity came about after a conversation I had with a commanding officer at the military rehabilitation centre Headley Court. He was bemoaning that there were no pathways into the construction industry. They usually go in as young apprentices. So if you’re in your 30s or 40s, with a family and home to provide for, it can be really tricky to move into that field if you’ve not got those kinds of skills.

“The course gives them this opportunity. We have both men and women on the course with 10 % of graduates women. There is a lot of demand for women builders.

“We are actually a victim of our own success as we have more applications than places available. The graduation ceremonies can get very emotional, and people have come up to us to say thank you and ‘you’ve saved my life’.

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