Walking With The Wounded's Christmas Campaign for 2019
We're proud that Live For The Hills' director Mark Sweeney has been invited to be an ambassador for the Walking With The Wounded Christmas campaign for 2019, Walking Home For Christmas. Find out more about the campaign, excellent work that the charity does and how you can get involved, by reading on. We'll also take a behind the scenes look at the celebrity launch which took place in London yesterday, including former footballer turned adventurer, Wayne Bridge and stars of the forthcoming movie 1917, George Mackay and Dean-Charles Chapman.
It was a crisp, chilly morning in central London yesterday, bathed in autumnal sunshine, when commuters making their way across the Millennium Bridge were surprised to find that their way was blocked by 15 people clad in Santa hats and bright red jackets. The festive gathering, consisting of celebrities, ambassadors and veterans, were about to walk to the Cenotaph to mark the launch of Walking With The Wounded's campaign, Walking Home For Christmas.
Walking With The Wounded is a charity which provides employment, mental health and care coordination programmes for 'at risk' ex military, those at risk of social isolation, unemployment or mental health issues, to help them back into society and to lead independent lives.
The majority of veterans transition without an issue but, for a minority, the path is difficult. Christmas is great if you are lucky enough to have a home, a family, a job, the ability to buy presents and the head-space to cope with family demands, gatherings and fireworks; it's tough if you don't. This campaign is set up so that help can be provided for ex military and their families who are socially isolated this Christmas and give them something to look forward to next year.
In 2018, 1,464 ex servicemen and women were supported by Walking With The Wounded. 2,323 mental health sessions were delivered in 2018 through Walking With The Wounded's network and within an average of 7 miles from their home.
So it was my great pleasure to head down to London yesterday to meet the team and celebrate the launch of the 2019 campaign.
Celebrities in attendance yesterday, joining us in the walk across London, included former Southampton, Chelsea, Manchester City, Fulham and England footballer, recent winner of TV's SAS: Who Dares Wins, Wayne Bridge, and lead actors from the soon to be released Sam Mendes film 1917, Dean-Charles Chapman and George Mackay.
The walk itself was not long, stretching between the Millennium Bridge and the Cenotaph, but it was interspersed with talks and insights along the way from some of the veterans who have received life-changing support from Walking With The Wounded.
Before we left the bridge, we heard from ex-serviceman Simon, who has been carrying out a virtual walk of 7,000 miles since January - the distance between Afghanistan and the UK. He "only" (his words - not mine) has 600 miles to go as we speak and is hoping to reach the finish line in December at the Arboretum in Staffordshire.
After listening to Simon, our couple of miles along the south bank of the Thames seemed pretty straightforward, so we set off past the Globe theatre and alongside the river.
Before we stopped at a nearby Pret for a welcome coffee, we heard from another of the veterans who was walking with us. Bjorn was originally from South Africa, although to his credit he only mentioned the Rugby World Cup final once. He had been inspired to join the army after the London bombings in 2005 and served for 10 years before being medically discharged. He found himself homeless and described how difficult it was to take that first step and talk to somebody to get help.
"When you're at your worst, your lowest, you don't want people to see you. You don't want to talk to anybody", he said. "It takes courage to put your hand up and say 'yes, I have a problem - I'm not doing well - I need help'..."
But he did have that courage and described it as the moment that changed his life. With the support of Walking With The Wounded, he is now part away through a degree course and his future is bright. He told me that the key thing about the support that he received is that it wasn't a one off thing where he would then be left to his own devices. The organisation keeps "badgering him, geeing him up" and getting him involved. He said that all he wants is to be an inspiration to other people who, for whatever reason, are reluctant to put their hand up and ask for help.
It was also great to spend time talking to the celebrities who joined us on the day (and indulge in the inevitable selfies.). Wayne Bridge is keen to lend his support to the campaign, having been part of the SAS: Who Dares Wins series earlier this year.
"After taking part in the show and getting to know some of the guys taking us through the challenges, you quickly learn of the immense stresses they've had to go through, both physically and mentally - to risk their lives to make Britain - and the world - a safer place for us all. Yet when they return, they may find themselves alone, struggling to find work or even homeless. Many are struggling with their mental health after witnessing scenes in battle that you or I cannot imagine.
We were also honoured to be joined for the walk by two of the lead actors in the soon to be released film 1917. Dean-Charles Chapman, famous for his role as Tommen Baratheon, the Boy King, in Game Of Thrones took part, alongside George Mackay who is well known for films such as Sunshine On Leith, Captain Fantastic and Ophelia amongst many others.
We also had the chance to speak with another veteran who has been a recipient of life changing support from Walking With The Wounded. Harry had served in various postings around the world and had been discharged with undiagnosed symptoms of PTSD which he struggled with for the following 30 years. He was never able to talk about the scenes he had witnessed and described how he thought he was going mad. Waking up often in tears, his life had become self destructive and he was struggling to cope. After encouragement from his wife, he sought help.
"I'd been having flashbacks for the past 26 years but hadn't spoken to my wife about them. I can talk about what I saw now. I couldn't talk to people before without breaking down, or shaking. Now I can."
I asked him if he felt like he was finally back on track.
"No", he said. "I'm not back on track. I'm already there."
So we crossed Westminster Bridge, inspired by the stories we had heard, and arrived at the Cenotaph, still decorated with wreaths of poppies from the previous day's remembrance ceremonies. A fitting place to end our walk.
How You Can Help
We're going to be holding our own walk in the Peak District on Saturday 14th December. We'll be releasing more details soon and you would be welcome to join us on the walk, or sponsor us and raise funds for a great cause.
Or you could set up your own walk. It won't win you medals but it will earn you respect - from friends who join you or donate - and from the veterans who have little to look forward to this Christmas.
This is your chance with friends to do something bold, creative and memorable to support ex-servicemen and women who are socially isolated, unemployed, homeless or suffering with mental health issues.
Ditch the car and walk home or somewhere important you, spell out your own 'Strava art' message or hand deliver a present to someone special. By doing a walk and fundraising you can give hope to veterans and their families who have little to look forward to this Christmas and have walked in far more dangerous places for us.
Anyone can raise money by taking a sponsored walk between 12th and 22nd December.
£675 is the average cost to receive 12 mental health therapy sessions
Please click below to give your support. Sign up for free and receive your fundraising pack. Thank you.