Building Heroes

“As veterans, we all have our issues along the way, both personal and work-related”.

Fellow veteran Gary Russell who served with the Royal Hampshire Regiment from the year of 1989 has definitely had his fair share of complications in life, not only during his military career but throughout his transition from soldier to civilian.

Garry was kind enough to share his story with Soldier to Civi in this week’s blog.


What was it that attracted you to joining the Armed Forces?

“I was in the Army Cadets living in Bedfordshire at the time and I then moved back to Gosport in Hampshire where I am originally from. I transferred to the Army Cadets in Gosport and was badged The Royal Hampshire Regiment Army Cadets.”

“We did a weekend away with the First Battalion Royal Hampshire Regiment of the Regular Army and I loved it. I was almost sixteen years old and just about to leave school where I embarked on the old youth training scheme as a mechanic. I was getting on ok but then the firm went bust and I went to a new placement but it wasn’t the same. So I decided to step into the Army Careers office”.


Gary Pass Out Training
Gary passing out of Basic Training


How did you feel leaving home at such a young age to join the Army?

“I always knew I was going to join up because it runs in the family. My dad served in the Royal Navy for twenty-three years. I was nervous but I knew we were all in the same boat. When I got to Depot Litchfield, we were met at the station where we had to give our names in and bundle onto a mini bus”.


What did you find most challenging about your army career?

“My first year. Leaving training and joining the Battalion in July 1989, in Londonderry”.


Why was this your most challenging time?

“I received a lot of bullying as the new bloke. It lasted eight months and after that, I had enough”.


There is no room for bullying, in my opinion, if people f**k up, they need educating, bringing on, not bullying.


Gary in Army


“I knew a lot of blokes in Support Company and I knew I would get on better there but at the time, I was only eighteen and out on patrol. I was the new guy and I made a few mistakes. When we returned to camp, I got the brunt of it. This sharpened me up very quickly, and the mistakes went. The company commander at the time said there was a place in Support Company in the Mortar Platoon and I was to go there as they were under-manned. It was the best move I ever made”.

“Support Company at that time never went city side, we only patrolled the Gobnascale and surrounding areas. We were then told we were to patrol city side and as I had already done the city side four times for a month at a time, I was buzzing”.

It’s good to hear that action was taken and Gary was fortunate enough to transfer to Support Company.


Was this the turning point for your army career, did you start to enjoy it more from this point on?

“Absolutely without a doubt, however, at the time the bullying was rife throughout Battalion”.


I have heard from seniors that this was a tough time to be in the Army.

When did you realise that you had enough and it was time to leave the Army?

“In 1992 we amalgamated with the Queens Regiment to become 1st & 2nd Battalion (Bn) of the Princess Of Wales’s Royal Regiment (PWRR) where I went to 2nd Bn PWRR. In 1998 I got posted out to 3 PWRR (Reserves) as I was then married and had been through a lot of miscarriages with my then wife. I did my twelve years up to October 2001 and decided I wanted the family to settle back in Canterbury”.

“This was my decision to leave”.


Garry with PWRR


“At the time Fibre Optics and Telecoms was the industry everybody wanted to join, So I did my resettlement in Data comms”.


Did this plan of action work out for you?

“Yes it did, I started with a local company in east Kent as a junior engineer at the age of thirty and lasted there two years before getting itchy feet and moving on to a firm in Maidstone. I was there for two years as well and again got itchy feet. I put my CV on a job site and was head hunted by Harrods. I started with Harrods in the IT dept as a telecoms engineer and was there for twelve years”.


So this really was a successful transition from soldier to civilian?

“Yes it was but as veterans, we all have our issues along the way, both personal and work related. After twelve years of getting up at half-past four in the morning and not getting home until eleven ‘o’ clock at night, it gets to you”.

“I was on a shift of four days on and four days off. After twelve years at Harrods, I decided it was time to move on once again. There was no training with the company to progress and I was being told I had to go into networking, switching and routing but I was not happy with it. I had worked my way up to IT Project Manager in charge of infrastructure. The work was then boring and mundane, so I left and became a Project Manager, which I paid for myself and joined N G Bailey”.

“In April this year, it was a mutual decision both NG Bailey and myself that I left there as there were too many projects on the go at any given time and I was struggling with it all. I had no idea what I wanted to do and was subsequently on the dole claiming Job Seekers and ESA (Employment and Support Allowance)”.


So your challenges came much later into the transition from soldier to civilian.

Were you still able to get the right support even after leaving the forces twelve to fifteen years ago?

“Yes but as most of us are too proud to ask for it, I let it go for years before plucking up the courage to speak to RBL (Royal British Legion), Poppy Factory. I got an employment consultant from the Poppy Factory and we had a meeting. During the meeting, Building Heroes came up in the conversation. One thing led to another and before I knew it, I was on the course at end of June this year at Chichester college”.

It takes a lot of courage for a veteran to reach out for help, I believe it’s mainly due to pride. Although this may or may not be the case for you.


What is Building Heroes?

Building Heroes are a military charity that helps veterans and ex-service people back into employment within the construction industry. The course is residential for five weeks. Accommodation and food are all included with the course itself”

“The trades covered during the course are bricklaying, blockwork, rendering, plaster boarding and jointing, plastering, tiling, carpentry, plumbing, guttering and general maintenance”.


And this course is completely Free?

“Yes, it is! There are two options for the course”.

Option One is to do the course with a view of further trade training, self-employment or anything else”.

Option Two is to be employed at the end of the course by its partner company Heroes 4 Hire as a professional handyman”.


“At the end of the course, you gain the certificate in Property maintenance. You also gain a CSCS card in Health & Safety to allow you onto building sites and a City & Guilds Level One in Health & Safety”.

“Have a look at H4H-Handymen which is the new company who I now work for. The company are a Veterans only handyman service across the whole country”.

“It’s a new company and it is based up North. We have a mobile phone with a manager app to pick up our jobs and we get one-thousand pounds worth of tools with the van”.


Gary With H4H Van
Gary with his new Heroes4Hire van.


This is incredible! I’ve heard of this company before and I think it’s a cracking idea. I can’t believe this opportunity was all for free. It just requires time and effort from yourself and the courage to reach out for help and advice.


Is it safe to say that Building Heroes and Heroes 4 Hire have put you back on your feet?

“Let’s hope so yes. At the moment, all is good”.


If you could give one piece of advice to someone leaving the Armed Forces, what would you say?

“Be happy in what you do. Go for your goals and all will come good. Be patient. If you’re not happy in any job, then that job is not for you so do not be afraid to make changes if you need too”.

“I started at the bottom when I left the forces and went to the top. When I got to the top, it wasn’t for me, so I went back to the bottom, changed everything and have started again. I am much happier now than I have been in years” -Gary Russell.


I believe the moral of Gary’s story is to not be afraid to change careers regardless of your age and what stage you are in life. If you are not happy in your current role of employment, it is ok to change your career path and try new areas of employment.

Building Heroes and Heroes4Hire seem to provide a fantastic aid for veterans and the transition from soldier to civilian. I’m genuinely impressed by this setup and I think it’s a fantastic idea! If you are a veteran with an interest in the construction and property maintenance industry, then I highly recommend these two organisations.

I hope you have enjoyed this week’s blog!

Jamie and featured Veteran Gary Russell



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