“Some people struggle with the transition but places like Launchpad are a Godsend. What would we do without them. Launchpad is the right place for me to be – it gives me real peace of mind that they are here to help, and I am taking back my life.”
Gary wanted to follow in the footsteps of his grandparents who both served in the armed forces. Though the careers service suggested he was suited to the RAF, he ended up joining the Navy and served ten years. Gary joined the Navy in 2002 as an aircraft engineer and was based at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall.
He applied to air crew in 2004 and in 2005, began his training on Merlin helicopters, working as an anti-submarine sonar officer. Gary, 36, received his wings and qualified in April 2006, becoming a leading hand, Corporal Level, which he described as a ‘great feeling’.
Whilst he didn’t carry out any active tours, he provided support to the Royal Oman Police and completed several trips to US on HMS Ark Royal.
It was during a trip in 2007, while disembarking from the Ark Royal in Auriga, he was helping to lift heavy boxes and hurt his back. This was the start of multiple issues which required surgery for a prolapsed disk and despite regaining fitness and suffering from many relapses, he was medically discharged from service in May 2011.
Having spent his whole career living in Cornwall, Gary made the decision to move back to his native North East. He moved into his mums house in Alnwick, Northumberland and was trying to get on with his life but he struggled with the transition and he was suffering from physical and mental health. He wanted to get it under control.
He has tried different jobs in engineering, retail and even as an employment advisor but struggled to hold those jobs down due to the problems with his back.
In April 2019, he took an overdose and went missing for a couple of days. After the overdose, he moved in to live with his dad in Ashington to try and work through things and eventually moved back home with his partner but suffered from depression and anxiety, which impacted on his relationship. Things got bad and eventually, his relationship broke down and he found himself homeless. He slept in his car and eventually sought help from Veterans’ Liaison through the local council.
“They referred me to Launchpad and I applied. The application process (for Launchpad) was really simple.”
After a short phone call, Gary had received an application and an appointment to begin the interview process. The support from Launchpad was immediately a relief to Gary who describes how difficult the move to civilian life is upon leaving the forces. Being around like-minded people at Launchpad immediately gave Gary hope.
Gary also became Launchpad’s 500th resident since it was established in 2013.
He is now looking forward to getting his life back under control. He said:
“This is the right place for me to be. I know I can get the support and help that I need to help me with my physical and mental health.
“It’s a massive relief to be here and it gives me peace of mind. When you leave the forces, it is difficult to transition into civilian life. It’s very different and some people struggle with it but places like Launchpad are a Godsend. What would we do without them.
“I’ve been made to feel very welcome and it’s nice to be around like-minded people. There’s camaraderie between the residents and it’s nice that you can meet and relax in the communal areas rather than feeling isolated in your own flat.
“My flat is lovely – it’s fully furnished and has a sofa, bed, coffee table, brand new pots and pans, plates – it’s been a huge help especially when you’re starting out again. It feels amazing to say I am Launchpad’s 500th resident. It has completely turned my life around after almost ten years.”