Michael Gallagher grew up in tough circumstances in Northern Ireland and served twice in the British Army, as a soldier and a chef. He was stationed in Woolwich alongside Lee Rigby, who was murdered outside the Royal Artillery Barracks in 2013.
Michael was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after being made redundant from the Army and was struggling with drinking and depression when he asked for help in 2018. With The Poppy Factory’s support, he is enjoying new success catering for oil rig workers in the North Sea.
Michael said: “I was born in Manchester and grew up in Northern Ireland in a Catholic community. My mother had 10 children, I had a sister and a brother who both died from using drugs, and I saw some bad stuff when I was growing up.
“When I first joined the Army it was in the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, serving as an infantry soldier from 2007-2008. Then I went back in as a chef in the Royal Logistics Corps, where I was based at Woolwich Barracks at the same time as Lee Rigby. Lee was part of the recruitment team, he used to bring the new recruits through and we would feed them.
“I was training in Kenya when Lee was killed. We watched it happening on the TV news. It was terrible to see, and absolutely heart-breaking for all of us.
“After we came back from Kenya, I was stationed at RAF Cottesmore for about two years, then in 2016 I was made redundant as part of the Army cutbacks. I didn’t mind, to be honest. I was getting a bit old to be chasing other guys over the hills.
“In 2018 I was suffering from depression, unemployed and drinking a lot, and I’d really hit rock bottom. I decided to ask for help and got in touch with the Veterans’ Association at first. That’s how I ended up arranging to meet Jayne, my Employability Consultant from The Poppy Factory, for a cup of tea at a hotel round the corner from my home.
“Jayne got me thinking about working off shore, which I hadn’t thought about before, and she helped me apply for work and supported me when I had to go up on the train for an interview in Aberdeen. She’s been fantastic and is always at end of the phone.
“I did two my first three weeks with the catering firm ESS over Christmas and new year, on a platform in the North Sea. I was excited and apprehensive because it was my first time in a helicopter and on an oil rig. Thanks to the Army I was used to big kitchens and having to cook for lots of people, so I got on quite well and everyone seemed happy with me.
“My second stint was for two weeks on a rig, flying out from Norwich, and that went well too. The job reminds me very much of the Army and I’m hoping I’ll shortly be given a more permanent role, which will give me a good steady income. I’m focused on getting a driving licence, which will make it easier to travel from Morecambe.
“The support I had from Jayne and The Poppy Factory changed my life, along with the funding for sea survival training that they secured from ABF The Soldiers’ Charity. If it wasn’t for that support I’d still be at rock bottom, but now everything is going in the right direction.
“I’m feeling really positive about the future. If I can do this, anyone can do it.”
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