Here at Debenhams, we believe in supporting a fabulous cause – with few more worthy than the charity Help for Heroes.
Help for Heroes is the brainchild of Bryn Parry and his wife Emma who, back in 2007, visited soldiers at Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham and left feeling compelled to help. The way they saw it, these men and women gave their all for their country which, sometimes, could result in them almost losing it all, on a personal level. Or at least it could feel that way.
With a family background deeply ingrained in the armed forces, the Parrys understood that recovery was about so much more than retirement from the forces. Once out of the day-to-day battle zone, you were also without the camaraderie of the men and the network of support – and this could be the point when the trouble could really begin. Support was needed yet, before Help for Heroes, it was in short supply.
So, eight years ago, Bryn and Emma decided to start using the office of their family design business to simultaneously run their new charity. The aim was to offer help, in many shapes and forms, to former soldiers that needed assistance re-integrating into society, returning to civilian status. This help could come in any number of ways, from advice on pensions and rent to physiotherapy sessions to aid physical recovery. As for mental support, counselling and therapy was also on hand to anyone who needed it.
Quickly attracting high profile trustees, not to mention The Sun newspaper selecting it as a beneficiary of their Christmas campaign, H4H (as it is often abbreviated) quickly became the Parry’s priority, with the family business soon sold. This was a cause that truly hit a nerve with the public. These were our soldiers, our men and women. They had helped us, and now we clearly wanted to help them.
It’s this personal angle that has made H4H such a success story. Bryn and Parry have a son still active in the forces, so the ‘one day it could happen to us/him’ angle applies. Sophie, the duo’s daughter, is equally involved in the day-to-day running of the charity – all the above we learnt from her, ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’, so to speak (sorry Sophie), on a recent Debemhams day trip to Tedworth House. Listening to Sophie describe the work of the charity, the passion she feels for it and the people it helps, was incredibly inspirational. You really couldn’t help but understand why the Parrys did this, what they still hope to achieve.
But what is Tedworth House? Well, Tedworth House is one of four recovery centres for H4H, located in the heart of army country at the border of Wiltshire and Hampshire, providing support to serving and veteran members of the armed forces who have been wounded, injured or have become sick.
Formerly a stately home, today Tedworth House is adapted to hold over 50 rooms – and it’s the heart of H4H. Offering a range of specialist rooms for adaptive sports, education courses, relaxation and socialising, the centre holds everything required to offer optimum support to those in need. On paper, it reads like a ‘normal’ enough rehabilitation centre, yet when you are actually there… when you see the artwork created by the soldiers, when you walk past disabled athletes training in the gym, when you are shown the state of the art Skiplex (a space for amputees to try out their skills prior to attempting actual slopes) it takes your understanding to a whole new level. You realise how important a place like Tedworth is. Here, the soldiers have the support of each other when they take those transitioning steps, yet families can visit regularly and join in some of the activities, ensuring the soldiers are still in touch with life beyond the centre.
For me, the highlight of the day – and by far the most inspiring – was an impromptu chat with Luke Sinnott; veteran of Afghanistan, double amputee, and perhaps best known to you and me as the guy who scaled a pole at the Paralympics closing ceremony. How’s that for impressive?Luke popped into the dining room when we were having lunch to say hi, and we were certainly intrigued to hear his story… so we politely asked. Happy to stay and chat about the support H4H has given him, his words really drove home the realisation that this is a charity with a difference.
Injured by a bomb that exploded beneath him, Luke even made us laugh when detailing this horrific event, informing us that – as is army protocol – his fellow comrades immediately lay across him as the rescue helicopter arrived, to protect his wounds from the surrounding dirt and sand. “Only they forgot my face, so there was me, lying on the ground getting sand in my face, cursing them.”
Admitting that once the dust settled, life was far from amusing, Luke spoke of the little things that made a difference to him, such as the H4H team that brought Christmas presents to the hospital. “Pretty girls came around with large sacks of gifts. The guys loved it…. but my wife didn’t like it as much,” he joked. Once home from hospital, Luke found it difficult to navigate his wheelchair across the carpet in his home, so H4H promptly came out to his home to re-do his flooring. Something so simply, but such a big difference to day to day life.
It impressed me that H4H thinks of everything – including ‘little’ things like this, things that are in reality so obvious it’s amazing Luke was ever sent home from hospital without someone checking how he was going to manage. When you take into account all Luke has done since the loss of his legs, e.g 350 mile bike rides, scaling that Paralympics pole, you can’t help feeling he has gained more life experiences than most fully able-bodied folks ever do in a lifetime.
Yes, it’s largely due to Luke’s own drive and determination. But it’s also, by his admission, thanks to H4H showing him the way.
We were lucky enough to have a visit from Paul Prior who shared his inspiring story with us. Joining the army at 16, Paul went on to undertake six tours including in Iraq and Afghanistan. This entailed long periods of time away (up to six months) at a time and encompassed many different roles including medicine, logistics and training the Afghan police force.
During his last tour Paul suffered an injured shoulder for which he had to undertake physiotherapy for, and was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. He was then on sick leave for a year and a half, not sleeping properly and not leaving the house for the first six months which brought huge stress not only on himself but also his family. His worst moment came when he was arrested for beating up a police officer which was, needless to say, not a proud moment.
Paul had reached an all-time low and seemed to be stuck in a downward spiral. He started having treatment in 2011 once he had left the military and managed to get a job doing freelance training in Dubai, but he suffered another crash in 2013 when he quit his job, returned home and was back to square one.
And then he got in touch with Help for Heroes, who helped him on his road to recovery, a journey that began with a week in one of their four recovery centres – which saved his life. The charity not only offered him support in terms of everyday things such as housing and pension advice, but they helped him build up his confidence again, giving him the mental kick he needed to get back on track. He praises the support network they provided him with and also the specialist help he received in combating stress. Thanks to all the help he received from Help for Heroes, Paul now runs his own training company and can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Our Help for Heroes Bake Sale
To raise money for this worthy cause, we held a bake sale full of delicious treats like chunky chocolate cookies and tasty hot cross buns. The fact they were for such a great cause made them taste even better. Here’s a sneak peek of the cakes we devoured all in aid of raising lots of money for Help for Heroes.
Make Your Own: Piñata Cake Recipe
One of our team made an irresistable piñata cake bursting with colour and surprises. Read on to find out how to make your own.
- 200g butter
- 200g caster sugar
- 4 medium eggs
- 2tsp vanilla extract
- 200g self-raising flour
- 1tsp baking powder
- Buttercream and icing depending on taste and decoration option. Alternatively you may use jam for in-between the cake layers.
- You will also need many small sweets or chocolates for the centre of the cake.
- Whisk all ingredients with a hand mixer and divide into two baking trays that are lined with grease-proof paper.
- Bake for half an hour in oven (Gas Mark 4)
- Cool before cutting out a circle in the centre, half way through the sponge to make space for the sweets. Add the sweets and spread the buttercream/jam in-between the layers.
- Decorate with icing or more buttercream. Be creative and add colour!
Would you like to donate to Help for Heroes?