Former soldier Paul Wright was among the first veterans to be supported through our national employment service. After going through a difficult time outside the Forces, we helped Paul gain employment with a job as a support worker at Everton in the Community. Today, Paul continues to help young people make better life choices through his work with the LFC Foundation, the charity wing of Liverpool Football Club. Here Paul reflects on his own personal journey.
A new game plan
Back in 2012, Paul Wright was looking for a fresh start.
He was proud of his seven years in the Royal Artillery, having served in Germany, Northern Ireland, Canada, Cyprus and in the first Gulf War in 1991. But Paul had struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder following his discharge in 1994, and a spell in prison had made him determined to turn things around.
Describing the experience of dealing with PTSD, Paul said: “It affects your family life and your general wellbeing. I wanted the nightmares to stop. You’re supposed to be a strong soldier, but a mental illness felt like an invisible injury. Outside I displayed a smiling face, but inside it was eating me up.
“I wanted to get my health back and to start feeling better about myself. That’s when I sought help that could give me the support I needed.’’
Professional support helped Paul get back on track. While still in prison, he signed up for different training courses to give himself the best chance of gaining parole at the earliest point. A few years after his release from prison, he joined the Inside Right programme run by the charity Everton in The Community, which helped veterans like him adapt to civilian life. Paul took part in weekly football sessions and shortly after, he began to volunteer for Everton in The Community, working on the ‘Safe Hands’ programme, which supported young people get their lives back on track after coming out of custody in young offenders’ institutions.
A coffee can change everything
It was through Inside Right that Paul first came across The Poppy Factory. At a monthly coffee morning, he met our Employability Consultant for the North West, who committed to helping Paul move forward and arranged funding for him to join the Safe Hands team as a paid worker.
Paul said: “I only found out about The Poppy Factory through a coffee morning at Everton FC. I’d never heard of it before. Things wouldn’t have gone the way they did without that chance meeting, so it was great that they were there in the community to make that connection.”
Describing the feeling of going to work in a job he loved, Paul said at the time: “I’ve had various jobs since leaving the forces, but this is the first job I’ve had where I have felt truly happy. I get out of bed with a spring in my step. I’m doing something useful and changing people’s lives, using my own lived experiences and life skills.”
Paul continued to work for the Safe Hands project until funding came to an end in 2015. By that stage, he was well equipped to move into other job roles helping others on Merseyside.
He worked with a housing organisation, engaging with people who were homeless, then Merseyside Youth Association, helping young people find work experience roles and encouraging them to step out of their comfort zones and become work ready. Soon afterwards, a job came up that was a perfect fit for Paul’s passion and experience.
Paul said: “When an opportunity came up with the LFC Foundation in 2019, I jumped at it. My role is the programme coordinator for the Kicks Targeted programme, which is aimed at young people aged 11-18 who may be at risk of going down the wrong path. Young people are referred to me, and I work with them on different activities to find out what interests they have and what they want to do, to help them move forward in a positive manner.
“I’m also responsible for delivering training in schools regarding other issues, such as County Lines, which is when young people become involved in criminal networks that supply drugs in remote areas. That’s been a problem for years, although a lot of people still aren’t aware of it.”
Serious back problems have been a recent setback, and Paul is still recovering from having emergency spinal surgery. But he is as committed as ever to helping others make positive steps forward after going through difficult times – something he can always relate to by thinking back on his own journey.
He said: “In a way, it’s only through my own lived experience that I’m able to do what I’m doing now. Sometimes it can be frustrating. But when a young person does start to engage and make progress, it’s really rewarding.”