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Jodie and Paul Wightman

Last week, we sat down with Jodie and Paul for the first ‘family edition’ of our Veteran’s stories segment. We discussed Paul’s time in the army, the transition to civilian life and how the family has adapted to Covid-19 with the help of our Health & Wellbeing Team. The couple met in 2008 on a night out at the pub in Tidworth where Paul was stationed. They got married three years later in June 2011, with their eight-year-old Brodie being born in November that year. They currently reside in their newly built property at Wessex House, having joined us at Stoll in June 2014.

Prior to joining us at Stoll, Paul had been in the Army since February 2003, serving for ten years and ten months. Initially, he underwent twelve weeks intense basic training at ATR Pirbright prior to moving onto Bordon to complete Phase 2 as a Vehicle mechanic with the REME. In the summer of 2004, he was posted to Germany, Guttersloh (Princess royal Barracks) with 6 supply RLC as a newly qualified vehicle mechanic (CFN Wightman). His time in Germany sent him to Optic 4 (Iraq) and also a six-month post to Belize as permanent staff supporting jungle training exercises.

In June 2006, he was posted to 6 Battalion REME in Tidworth and within a month of being there he was promoted to Lance Corporal. He was also loaded onto the Physical training instructors’ course during this time. He spent four years at Tidworth with 6 bn REME working as a vehicle mechanic and as a PTI within the gym delivering physical training lessons. While in Tidworth, he visited Canada on three separate occasions spending between three to six months per time on winter repair and canary brave exercises. In early 2010, he was sent to ATR Winchester where he would work within the Gym as an All Arms Physical Training Instructor, taking on and transforming newly joining soldier’s in order to make them army fit and ready, spending his last four years in the Army in Winchester.

Paul left the Army when he was informed that he was within the redundancy bracket and was offered the choice to volunteer for redundancy. As he was recently married and Brodie recently born, the family saw this has the right time to leave for Paul and start something new with the family.

However, transition back into civilian life would prove difficult, especially when it came to housing. Having initially approached Hounslow Council and told they would be high priority due to Paul’s service, they quickly found themselves at the back of the queue despite previous assurances. They decided to privately rent, however this became increasingly difficult. Paul talked about how the transition period had become challenging on his mental health.

“I had been out around six months now and never realised that I was struggling to cope with civilian life and the uncertainty of money coming in was hitting me hard. Thinking back now I in a bad way mentally, I was not my usual self.”

While Jodie works as a full-time private nanny, Paul describes during his initial transition he jumped between jobs trying to make something stick. However, he has now been working within the construction industry for six years as a Health and Safety manager. His appetite for the job stems from its similar values like the Army, with the work requiring discipline and courage in order to approach persons on the site who may be breaking the rules and working unsafe. He described how construction also has similar characteristics as the Army, with the workers on site always up for a laugh and a joke, not to mention a pint as soon as the working day is done.

The young family came to join us at Stoll in June 2014, having heard about the new Stoll development at Wessex House through a friend and arranged for an interview. After an initial meeting, Stoll offered the young family a place to live, with the family describing the relief they felt the minute they were accepted, and have now been at Stoll for six years.

However, just like every family across the country, Jodie and Paul have found the challenges of the pandemic in the interruption to regular routine and schools being closed.

“We found it quite difficult in the start as we see our family and friends a lot so was hard to not be able to see them. Brodie struggled with not having any interaction with other children and the home-schooling was a struggle until we got a routine going.”

Once the lockdown was eased, being able to get out more and see people has made a big difference. Brodie has been staying in touch with friends by writing letters and playing online games. They highlighted the difference that the Support Team have made during these times, with Stoll providing regular welfare checks via texts as our communications transitioned to a more digital approach. Moreover, the Health and Wellbeing Team provided Brodie with a laptop to complete schoolwork and he was incredibly happy with his isolation pack from Stoll and Chelsea football club.