THE BLOG

Why Accessible Housing Is Worth Fighting For

17/09/2014 11:05 BST | Updated 16/11/2014 10:59 GMT

I won gold and silver at the Invictus Games. In all my wildest dreams I never expected to end up here. I was born in Trinidad and my dream was to move to England, where the Queen lives, and serve in the British Armed forces. Last week, I stood up on the podium in front of her grandchildren - surreal doesn't quite cover it.

But I could have so easily missed out. Not because of the gruelling training hours, which I fit around a full-time job. Something more prosaic and fundamental: housing.

Following my medical discharge from the army, like many injured soldiers, I didn't expect housing to be central to my recovery.

What people might not realise, as I didn't, is housing's direct effect on mental and physical wellbeing. Without a fixed address, no surgeon would consent to perform the operations I desperately needed to move forward. Where could I have gone afterwards to mend? My doctors weren't convinced the sofa of a friend was an appropriate place to get better. And nor were my friends.

As my physical recovery was put on hold, so too was my mental healing. When I was medically discharged from the Army after sustaining my injury I had to completely re-build a picture of my life, which up to that point had been dedicated to being a soldier. I considered myself lucky to have a vocation, but dealing with the psychological fall-out when it was taken away from me has been tough.

Accessible housing is not a sexy topic, but it means the world to me and undoubtedly thousands of other disabled people across the UK. The statistics around disability housing are poor and most people know this, if only subconsciously. Only 5% of UK homes are accessible enough for people to visit, let alone actually live in. Many people would have experienced either being the wheelchair user, or being a friend or relation of someone in wheelchair and having to watch them summon the herculean strength needed to get up a flight of front door steps. But it's also the little things that niggle - bathtubs that double as porcelain traps, doorways that nick the side of a wheelchair, light switches out of reach.

When you're without a home, or in a home that poorly suits your needs, the preoccupation and panic about your situation smothers your thinking. It becomes impossible to pick yourself up, look forward and re-configure your future. It's also virtually impossible to find a job, when most employers want to hire someone with predictable living arrangements.

I consider myself almost freakishly lucky to have ended up where I am: the former Olympic Athlete's Village in an adaptable home provided by Triathlon Homes. When I need to train, I make the short trip over to Queen Elizabeth Park, where I also have a full time job. Everything seems to have fallen into place.

Now, when I open the curtains in the morning and look across London, my first thought is breakfast, not finding a place to crash. I've been able to imagine a new dream.