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Employment

‘Asking for help’s the hardest part’: Veteran goes from homeless to keyworker

The Poppy Factory has supported 200 ex-forces men and women like Musa into jobs. The 39-year-old has overcome homelessness and mental health issues to keep Britain warm

Unemployment has continued to rise throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and stood at 4.9 per cent for August to October, according to Office for National Statistics figures.

The 1.69 million people who are out of work are set to be joined by another million by the middle of 2021, according to Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts, after Chancellor Rishi Sunak warned he could not save every job at last year’s Spending Review.

But veterans charity The Poppy Factory has defied the Covid-19 jobs crisis to help more than 200 ex-forces personnel into work since the first UK lockdown.

The organisation provides one-to-one support for ex-forces personnel with mental and physical health conditions and has helped find jobs for veterans like Musa Jallow, 39, in essential roles in logistics and healthcare despite the pandemic.

Get support and advice for getting back into work by registering for RORA Jobs & Training here

Musa urged his fellow veterans who need support to ask for help from charities and get back into work during the pandemic. Musa said: “Sometimes asking for help feels like the hardest part. Getting the help can be hard as well. But it’s definitely worth trying.”

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The former infantryman contacted The Poppy Factory after he feared he would never have the confidence to work again due to his mental health struggles.

Musa left the army in 2015 after 12 years of distinguished service in the Grenadier Guards and as a Queen’s Guard. He also served in Iraq and Afghanistan, South Africa and the Falklands.

The “life-changing experience” left Musa with post-traumatic stress disorder, eventually requiring hospital treatment for nine months in 2019. He was then left homeless.

I thought I’d never work again and I really had no confidence

He said: “I lived with my sister for a while because I had nowhere else to go. Then I was able to get a flat in Coventry.

“I was on medication and pretty much left to myself, and it was really difficult.

“There were times when I couldn’t even afford food. Some family members and friends got in touch and they helped, but I was keeping myself to myself and hardly ever went out. I could stay in the same room for weeks. I felt ashamed of myself and what I was going through.”

After summoning up the courage to ask for help, Musa began having therapy and contacted The Royal British Legion who suggested The Poppy Factory (TPF).

The charity’s support helped him to find his feet in the world once more. Their work in finding jobs for veterans saw Musa earn a new role at the heating pipeline distributor BSS National Tube Distribution Centre, just two miles from his home, at the start of the first national Covid-19 lockdown.

Musa added: “At the point I got in touch with The Poppy Factory, I felt no-one was ever going to employ me – that if they knew I had PTSD and depression, it would be too risky. I thought I’d never work again and I really had no confidence.

“After nine months I’m still getting used to working again. I know I need to get out of the flat to help myself. It isn’t easy and it takes time, but it’s helping me mentally and it puts food on the table. Having a set routine and sticking to it really helps.”

Rebecca Thorne, Musa’s support worker, added: “The job is perfect as it’s the night shift and works well for Musa, who has issues with his sleep. It has also given him flexibility and his manager, Jake, is a fellow veteran. Musa is thriving in the job.”

Another veteran Donna Purnell, 36, from Ammanford in Carmarthenshire, Wales, experienced mental health challenges and reached breaking point years after leaving service. With joint support from Veterans NHS Wales, Change Step and The Poppy Factory, she has been able to flourish in a new job offering emotional support to families in the region during lockdown.

The Poppy Factory is searching for jobs for veterans like Musa and Donna and has urged others to register for employment support. The charity said that four out of five of the people they work with have a mental health condition but their employment support team are ready with advice and guidance to get people back to work.

Deirdre Mills, chief executive of The Poppy Factory, said: “With Covid-19 and the lockdown restrictions having such a huge impact on all our lives, I am proud that the veterans we support are rising to the challenge and making a real difference.

“I am equally proud of the hard work and commitment of our employment support team. They stand ready to help many more veterans make progress on their journey into employment in 2021, no matter what challenges they may face.”

The Big Issue, too, is focussing on protecting jobs and helping people back into work with our Ride Out Recession Alliance. It is one thing to focus on supporting people who have been forced out of their homes, who have lost their source of income and reached desperation, and it is another to make sure they don’t reach that point in the first place. 

The Big Issue wants to do both, to treat both the symptoms and the causes. With the new RORA Jobs & Training programme, people who are struggling for work get a three-month digital subscription, weekly advice on how to get your next job, access to free or discounted training courses, and the ability to search The Big Issue jobs board with hundreds of thousands of jobs.

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