Walking home for Christmas

Help the thousands of ex-military personnel who struggle to get back into work by ditching London’s public transport, and making the final journey home before Christmas on foot

TODAY, on Remembrance Day, we commemorate the servicemen and women who have given their lives in the line of duty. It’s also a time to remember those who return from conflict wounded, injured or sick. A total of 4,991 Army personnel have been medically discharged in the last five years, for both physical and psychological reasons, and many face an uphill struggle to secure long-term employment.

It’s for these ex-servicemen and women that, on 20 December, Walking With the Wounded – a charity devoted to helping injured military personnel get back into work – is asking City workers to ditch trains, taxis, or the Tube, and make the journey home on foot. It’s called Walking Home for Christmas, and it doesn’t matter if you live one mile or 100 miles from work, Walking With The Wounded wants you to don a yellow bib (and a festive hat), and raise money for an excellent cause.

By funding bursaries for retraining, as well as providing career consultants and psychological help, Walking With The Wounded aims to aid ex-service men and women with the transition from military to civilian life.

“The primary goal of our charity is to help wounded soldiers find employment,” says Cook. “The bulk of our money goes to the First Steps Bursary Scheme, which funds anything from plumbing courses to a university degree, as well as a range of discretionary projects.”

One of many beneficiaries of the charity’s help is Sean. He was discharged from the Army after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and ended up sleeping rough and turning to alcohol after failing to find work. He vividly remembers telling himself that, “if I don’t start digging myself out of this hole now, it’s going to be too deep to escape from.”

A local homeless shelter put him into contact with Catterick Garrison, which provides housing for vulnerable ex-servicemen, and Walking With The Wounded funded his retraining as a narcotics dog handler, and bought him a van to use for his new business. After passing his qualifications, Sean started work as a full-time narcotics dog handler and now lives in his own home.

James Hibbert, who is organising Walking Home for Christmas, came up with the idea after previously fundraising for Walking With The Wounded. “We had great success with Ride of the Lions this summer,” he says. Hibbert and rugby legends Roger Uttley, Mike Teague, Peter Winterbottom and Tyrone Howe cycled 1,000km from Melbourne to Sydney, raising nearly £150,000.

“In the run up to Christmas, we thought it would be great to get people pre-emptively burning off some of their Turkey by joining together and walking home. We’re hoping to raise awareness of this great cause.”

Andrew Cook of Walking With The Wounded, says that “we want people to take a step back at this family-oriented time of year, and spare a thought for those walking in far more treacherous circumstance than we can imagine.” But the organisers also want participants to have fun, and Cook says that the community aspect is important: “we want this to be something people do with their friends and colleagues, joining together and maybe even stopping off at pubs along the way.”

Hibbert, founder of tailor Dress2Kill, has promised to donate a bespoke suit to the person who walks the furthest. They will have some distance to beat, however, with Hibbert planning to trek his way back to Hampshire. “It may involve a stop-off in a pub overnight,” he says, “but hopefully I’ll make it home for Saturday evening.”

If you would like to help support those who, unlike Sean, have not been able to retrain and secure work, register for Walking With The Wounded’s Walking Home for Christmas event for £30, and receive your free bib at www.walkinghomeforchristmas.com.

The Walk – Walking Home For Christmas on 20 December
Walking With The Wounded want as many people as possible to join them and travel home by foot on the last Friday before Christmas. It costs just £30 to register at www.walkinghomeforchristmas.com, and participants will receive a starter pack including a high-visibility vest and further information on the event. James Hibbert, who is one of the organisers, says “it doesn’t matter where you live or how far you end up walking – we just want people to register, show their support, and have fun. No-one expects you to trek all the way from the City to Guildford, but maybe just walk back from the station with some friends and colleagues once you get there.” The organisers are planning to involve local pubs and bars, allowing participants to get a drink or two on the way home. “Nothing is set in stone yet, but if we could get some drinks deals for the journey, I’m sure that would help boost everyone’s spirits,” Hibbert says. Andrew Cook of Walking For The Wounded says that, depending on how successful this year’s walk is, it may turn in to an annual event. “Our target is for 1,000 people this year, but if more people express an interest, all the better,” he says. “We’d like people to get their friends and colleagues involved, and really try and make this a fun, communal event. If everyone interested told just four or five people, then we could start to see a snowball effect.”

Walking With The Wounded
The transition from military to civilian life is difficult for all ex-servicemen and women. But for those wounded on the front line, either physically or psychologically, a future outside of the armed forces can be particularly uncertain. Walking With The Wounded, through its First Steps Bursary Scheme and a range of third parties such as the Recovery Career Service (RCS) helps to secure long-term employment for the wounded. Through the RCS alone, 191 wounded veterans have found employment in the last seven months, a success rate of 60 per cent. Another 80 have found volunteering or training opportunities. The charity has forged connections with major firms like Virgin Money and LA Fitness, and has over 400 other organisations actively involved in the project. “We don’t go to these companies cap in hand,” says Andrew Cook of Walking With The Wounded. “We’re helping them to tap into the capabilities of these extraordinary people – we want to show how they can face the future with the same courage and determination they demonstrate on the front line.” In order to raise awareness, Walking With The Wounded undertakes inspirational expeditions aiming to demonstrate the bravery and fortitude of the wounded. Previous expeditions include a trek to the South Pole this year – led by the charity’s patron, Prince Harry (pictured) – and the climbing of Mount Everest.