The Founders of Help for Heroes and a special Ambassador for their charity were welcomed with a drinks reception and a packed Speech Hall in the first of the term’s Purvis Society Lectures on Friday evening.
Bryn Parry, OBE, and Sergeant Tom Stimpson, MBE, together gave an emotional talk on the need for the charity and the physical and psychological difficulties faced by servicemen and women on the road to recovery.
Bryn, who founded the charity with his wife Emma, also an OBE, spoke of a personal journey that began at the age of four, when his own father was killed in service. He spent a long career with the Royal Green Jackets himself, and their son Tom, educated at Cranleigh School, also joined the army, serving in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Many people did not agree with our most recent wars, but the people serving are just blokes, ordinary men and women doing a job. And to do the only job in this country that requires you to put your life on the line is heroic,” he said.
It was Emma who initially started the idea of helping the tens of thousands of young men and women who returned from those campaigns wounded. In 2007 they visited Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham, where they met severely injured servicemen and women. Their response, the Help for Heroes campaign, aimed to show that these individuals were not responsible for war but simply doing a job. From the outset the response was overwhelming and the charity became the fastest growing fundraising initiative in history. Britain was absolutely ready to support the ‘blokes’.
“We wanted people to help the service men and women themselves. It’s about Derek, a rugby player who has lost both of his legs, or his colleague who had his jaw wired and has to drink through a straw. For us it was vitally important that we looked at providing holistic support that would give them a real shot at recovery, to bring the wounded together and help them get their lives back in order together, not alone in a bedsit,” said Bryn.
The initiative began in Surrey, at Headley Court, a military rehabilitation Centre near Leatherhead. The Parrys initially wanted to raise money to fund a swimming pool, but to do that it was necessary for them to form a charity and it all steamrollered from there. Within a few months the swimming pool was built, within two years they began building dedicated recovery centres, and, within seven years, Help for Heroes has grown into a multimillion pound organisation, employing hundreds of full time staff across four specialist military rehabilitation centres. As well as the centres they have established the Band of Brothers and Sisters (now with more than 5,000 members), and also provide financial support, welfare, psychological support, sports recovery and career recovery.
“The whole thing snowballed so quickly, it was like driving at full speed down the motorway and building the car at the same time,” said Bryn. “But it still isn’t enough. The more you listen the more you realise that the things these people need are not in place and then we need to look at setting them up.”
The Parrys brought with them Sergeant Tom Stimpson, MBE, to talk about Hidden Wounds, the latest in Help for Heroes’ specialist projects, which was set up to help those with mental health problems and is the first programme of its kind in the country. Sergeant Stimpson served 26 years in the RAF, including tours to both Iraq and Afghanistan, where he sustained a brain injury that caused ongoing seizures and a blood condition that requires continuous chemotherapy.
“I was a boxer in the military, I was tough, I wasn’t going to admit there was anything wrong with me. It took me years to start recovering but accepting mental health problems is the start, not seeing it as a sign of weakness.’ Tom, a father of three, is now an Ambassador for Help for Heroes, campaigning tirelessly against the stigma that’s still attached to mental health.
“War happens in every generation, that’s a horrible fact, and we have to be prepared to cope with the collateral damage of that, it is all of our responsibility,” finished Bryn.
The Parry’s is an incredible story and Help for Heroes is one of the most successful charity ventures ever imagined. But there will always be more to do and more people like Tom who need their support. If you’d like to help them continue and expand their much needed specialist programmes you can donate by going to http://www.helpforheroes.org.uk.