Mark Stanley, 58, from Swansea, joined the Royal Signals as a teenager and was discharged seven years later after serving in Germany and Cyprus. Despite a successful move into a civilian role with South Wales Police, Mark was troubled for years by a tragic accident that he witnessed while on exercise. After developing post-traumatic stress disorder and suffering a breakdown, Mark was referred to The Poppy Factory for support getting back into work. With help from his employability consultant Natalie, Mark is now inspired by his new job supporting others with disabilities.
Mark said: “I joined the Royal Signals in 1978 and left with a normal discharge in 1985. I served in Germany for four years as a data telegraphist, where I was promoted to Lance Corporal, and then in Cyprus where I worked in a communications centre.
“There was one incident that happened while we were on exercise in Germany which really affected me. A friend and I had been given the duty of looking after the officers’ mess, and at night we had to fill up the big burners in the cook tent. My friend filled the burner in a dip in the ground where the fumes from the kerosene collected. When the cook came to light it in the morning, the kerosene blew. The truck that my friend was sleeping in caught fire and he couldn’t get out of his sleeping bag. He was badly burned and died in hospital 10 days later.
“I felt I was partly responsible, and it’s always played on my mind. I used to have flashbacks, but I thought I was overcoming it. Within two years of leaving the Army, I was working for South Wales Police in the control room, and I didn’t think I’d been affected that much. I thought I’d left it all behind.
“I worked for the police for 24 years and for the last three years, some of the things I was dealing with really started to chip away at me. In 2010 I had a breakdown and it was like a tsunami – everything came back. I had post-traumatic stress disorder, I was depressed and anxious and I went to the hospital eight times in one year.
“In 2013 I started counselling with NHS Wales, which helped me to some degree, but I still had flashbacks. I decided to go back to university to keep my mind busy, and I did a four-year Masters degree in computing and information systems. I saw it as a form of treatment more than anything else.
In 2015 I started counselling with NHS Veterans Wales, which was a lot more successful and helped me considerably with my studies at University.
“After another period of therapy I felt ready to go back to work, and my counsellor referred me to The Poppy Factory. Natalie, my employability consultant, got in touch by email and then we met in a coffee shop in a local village.
“Natalie has been brilliant from the start. It felt like we’d known each other for years. She’s ex-Navy, and for me, it was very important that through her own experience, she could understand where I was coming from. I felt I could talk to her about things that I hadn’t been able to talk about with anyone else.
“By talking to Natalie I realised that I’m a people person and I find it easy to communicate. We looked at a couple of computing jobs first but I realised that wouldn’t be the best way forward.
“When I came out of the Royal Signals, the communications skills I’d learnt from my trade were transferrable to the police control room, and the soft skills like leadership and team working were also really important.
“Natalie helped a lot with my CV, because I wasn’t really selling myself very well. CVs weren’t really around when I first moved into the police, and I hadn’t really thought about the skills that I’d built up over the years. Natalie helped me bring those to the foreground.
“I’d been out of work for seven years, so when I got an interview and was offered the job the next day, it really felt like I’d achieved something. Before, I felt like I was on the scrapheap, so to get the job was fantastic.
“I don’t think Natalie could have found a better job for me to apply for. I now work as an Employability Co-ordinator at Leonard Cheshire Cymru, in a role that’s very similar to Natalie’s. Most of the people I support have disabilities, some more severe than others, and I meet them one to one to support them in applying for jobs or volunteering. I have a caseload of around 50 people, but it doesn’t feel like a heavy load because I love the work.
“People who have been in the Forces often feel that they don’t need help, and they can brush everything off. But you do need that help. For anyone who has come out of the Forces and is injured or has mental health issues, The Poppy Factory will give you the support you need to get back into work.”
Find out more about our Getting You Back to Work service.
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