The day I was accepted into the Scots Guards was one of the proudest days of my life. I'd always wanted to join the army so I could follow in the family footsteps of my older brothers and felt very fortunate to be doing a job I enjoyed. It brought out the best in me and I worked harder than I ever had done before to establish myself and progress my career.
My time in the army taught me many things, from self-discipline to the value of teamwork and how to lead, but above all, it taught me to never give up, even when the odds are stacked against you. It's a mentality I've always believed in whole-heartedly, but when I was still in the army I never imagined that one day it would literally save my life.
It was in 2010 when life as I knew it changed forever and my career in the army came to an abrupt end. I was on tour in Afghanistan when I was injured by an improvised explosive device while travelling on a main supply route. The blast damaged my coccyx and caused multiple injuries to my entire left leg, resulting in chronic pain disorder, and it quickly became clear that my working life in the military was over.
In many ways, I found it more difficult to come to terms with leaving the army than with the injury itself. Leaving meant losing a way of life I thrived on, being separated from a fantastic team of soldiers, friends and family who had been through a lot together, and abandoning my dream of a career in the Scots Guards.
After years of being in the army, the realities of moving back to my home town of Blackburn hit me like a tonne of bricks. I felt very disconnected from civilian life and struggled to see how I could ever fit in. Employment prospects were bleak and any jobs I did see advertised seemed impossible to secure. But despite all this, I was determined to move forward with my life.
Things started to change when I responded to an advert for The Prince's Trust. The youth charity has long supported military personnel making the transition into civilian life; a commitment it bolstered this month by signing the Armed Forces Covenant, pledging to help the employment prospects of people leaving the Armed Forces, wounded personnel and their families.
One of the many ways The Trust supports ex-Service men and women is by enabling wounded, injured or sick personnel to access secondments on its Team programme, a 12 week personal development course. I was selected to work as an Assistant Team Leader for Groundwork, a role initially supported with a grant from the Department for Education's Military Ethos funding and later through Help for Heroes, which works in partnership with The Trust. My role was to help vulnerable young people in Chorley to gain the skills, confidence and qualifications they needed to move into work, education or training.
I could see the same sense of uncertainty I had so recently felt in many of the young people we were helping, but knew that with the right support they would find their way and build a better future for themselves. The experience of working with them was hugely rewarding and gave me something that had been missing from my life since I left the army - a sense of purpose and a feeling that I was doing something good for my community. I was so grateful for the opportunity to prove myself in a civilian role and was given all the help I needed to really make a success of it.
By this point, I was hooked on youth work and stayed on to run another Team programme, this time as Team Leader. When my secondment with Groundwork came to an end, I was delighted to accept a new role as a Fairbridge programme executive at The Prince's Trust's Pennine Lancashire Centre in Burnley, after 18 months of hard work and establishing programme stability. I was soon promoted to Programme manager and now help young people on The Trust's Fairbridge programme.
Looking back, it's amazing to think I've come so far. If The Prince's Trust hadn't believed in me when I needed to start again, short in self confidence and full of self doubt, I don't know where I'd be. Youth work has given me a new lease of life, so to anyone who feels daunted by having their career cut short, I'd say this - never give up, there's something out there for you. Do not focus on the door that has closed, focus on how you will open other doors and walk through them with confidence.
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