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Lessons from the Front Line with Andy Reid - Combating Social Distancing, Isolation and Home-schooling

Rebekah Valero-Lee morson forces

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This week we Zoomed with Morson Forces Ambassador, Andy Reid MBE, who chatted with us about his experiences on operational tour and draws some interesting parallels with our current situation under COVID-19. We discuss coping techniques for those struggling with social distancing and isolation, his work in his local community and how he’s keeping the kids entertained.  

For those who may not be familiar with Andy Reid's background and story, Andy served in the army from 1997, deployed on various tours including Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Iraq. In 2009, when on operational tour in Afghanistan, he stepped on an IED whilst on a routine foot patrol. The explosion resulted in the loss of both legs and right arm and his life was saved by immediate battlefield first aid. He was flown back to Camp Bastian where health care professionals provided critical care and from there he started on his journey to rehabilitation.

Despite such a devastating injury, Andy quickly saw hope after the incident:

Within a couple of hours of coming out of intensive care, I decided that I was a survivor not a victim. I accepted responsibility for what had happened, and I was able to move my life forward. The health care workers who saved my life are doing such an incredible job right now and it really brings it home that they are on the front line of this pandemic.

Once fully rehabilitated, Andy threw himself into charity activities, skydives, abseils and bike rides, to give back to the people and organisations who’d helped him on his journey to recovery. After giving an inspirational speech at Wigan Football club, Andy was invited to Manchester United and was introduced to Sir Alex Ferguson and Morson CEO, Ged Mason. After telling the pair about his latest challenge, a 400-mile bike ride followed by a kayak in honour of 6 of his regiment who had died in Afghanistan, Ged sponsored Andy and asked him to speak at the Morson Half Yearly Conference.  

At that time, with 500 ex-forces candidates on projects with Morson, there was a real opportunity for Andy to help more ex-forces individuals’ transition to civilian life and work bu becoming a forces ambassador for our organisation.

I’m very well known in the veteran community and I understand the challenges that ex-forces guys have when they leave the military. I’ve been working with Pat McMullan and James Lacey from the Morson team on the CTP and BFRS recruitment fairs and I’m able to give real world advice to those individuals who may have no idea where to even start on their journey into civilian work. When you’re in the army you have such a regimented routine - your told what time to be up, when mealtimes are – things like council tax and food shopping are a whole new world when you leave the forces.

With Morson I’ve been able to nurture ex-forces candidates through these challenges and find them rewarding work outside of the military.  

Throughout our conversation Andy mentioned that there were parallels between operational tour and what we're currently experiencing as a result of COVID-19. Whilst on operational tour in Kosovo, Andy spoke about missing his loved ones, not being able to see family and friends and unable to have downtime in bars and coffee shops in order to stay safe. Some experiences that we can relate to now.

In Afghanistan we were only able to have 20 minutes of phone call time a week. In this you may have to call your mum and dad, grandparents, partner etc. so it’s very difficult. If a solider gets injured or unfortunately loses their life, the phones are turned off, meaning no outside contact for over a week. One thing we have on our side during this pandemic is a lack of restriction on how we use technology to communicate, and we should not take this for granted, using this as much as possible to engage with our friends and families.

For Andy one of the key coping mechanisms during his time away was routine, and suggests that this is an essential way to keep motivated during our current period of disruption. He advocates keeping to normal sleeping patterns, ensuring you’re getting outside once a day (if possible) and keeping to regular meal times. Andy also advises keeping a daily diary, and this is one technique that really helped him cope during his time on operational tour.

I think when people return to work, they’ll find that particularly difficult. Writing a diary every day to download your thoughts and activities not only helps in the short term but will help people come to terms with what they have been through whilst in isolation, when they are back in a hectic and bustling workplace.

It’s a difficult time for everyone, with immense tragedy and economic downturn. But out of darkness often comes light and the community spirit and selflessness of people may be the silver lining to COVID-19’s dark cloud.

I think it’s fair to say that Brexit divided the country, with communities and even families at odds because of political opinion. In the time of COVID we’ve seen a much more harmony – people working together, being selfless, helping others. If nothing else, this threat will bring communities together.

Andy plays a huge part in creating this community spirit in his local St. Helens. He owns a café in St. Helens and has been delivering food and supplies to those in need in his Morson Forces van.

In St. Helens there is a veteran’s breakfast club where around 50 veterans come together every Thursday morning for a bacon butty and a chat about their service and experiences. I know the essential value of groups like this and those people will be really missing that time together. So, I’ve been delivering bacon sandwiches to those guys to maintain their routine and give them something to look forward to. One of the guys, John, is partially sighted so the current situation is particularly difficult for him as he’s not able to judge distance etc. in the shops. To deliver a sandwich to him, have a chat and make sure he’s OK, that’s invaluable and you can see it really lifts his spirits.

We’re also doing shopping deliveries for the elderly who might not even have a computer to be able to book food delivery slots, they can ring our café and we’ll drop essentials off.  

Andy hinted that as he’s normally frequently on the road and very active that being in the house has been difficult. Getting out there and helping his community has been beneficial for him too, as it gives him purpose.

Like many, with a young family, Andy, has the challenge of keeping two small children entertained whilst maintaining their education through home schooling.

With William whose 7, we’ve been doing home schooling and I’ve been doing alternative teaching with a bit of construction, building hammocks and dens in the garden. I think anything that doesn’t move in the garden has been sanded down and painted! We know we’re lucky to have a great outside space and we really appreciate that not everyone is as fortunate. With both William and Scarlett, whose 2, we’ve been doing baking and making sure we’re getting out and about in our local area once a day, we often go down to the cemetery to visit my grandma’s memorial bench.

Along with helping his community and looking after his family, Andy has also found the time to launch his new initiative, The Standing Tall Foundation. Andy and local businessman John Tabern have established The Standing Tall Foundation to support the NHS and care home staff of St Helens and Knowsley. Working with the Leon House Clinic, Andy’s foundation is offering free mental health support for key health care workers who may be struggling at this time. Whilst in lockdown the support service is being delivered by some of the best trauma counsellors in the UK via Zoom.

Andy has kindly extended the offer of free mental health support to Morson employees who might be struggling with mental health at this time. For further details on The Standing Tall Foundation and how to access the Mental Health support contact Andy, andy.reid@morson.com