A veteran who has struggled with mental health problems since leaving the army is celebrating an employment milestone.
Chris Cowe, from Pegswood, had been unemployed for 20 years.
But thanks to The Poppy Factory, which helps wounded, injured and sick veterans back into work in communities throughout the region, the 44-year-old has celebrated his first anniversary working at the Azure Garden Centre in Cramlington.
He secured a job as a garden centre assistant, and is also taking on the seasonal role of Father Christmas.
Chris said: “I was in the Territorial Army for two or three years and then I joined the Coldstream Guards. I’d wanted to be in the Army from a very young age.
“I was in training for 12 weeks, then there was an incident that really played on my mind and they told me to go home immediately afterwards. That was the end of my time in the Army.
“I had really bad depression for a few years and I felt like my head was going to explode.
“I met up with Giles, my employability consultant at The Poppy Factory, and he did a lot to encourage me. We looked at a few jobs and I got an interview. I didn’t get that job because I didn’t have enough experience, but I was told I was next on the list. That was a good feeling and gave me the confidence I needed to get to where I am now.
“I started at the garden centre on a work placement and they’ve kept me on as an assistant for a year now.”
He added: “I’m really enjoying it. I like being able to help the customers and the other members of the team.
“It’s good to feel worthwhile and helpful again after doing nothing for so many years. It’s taken me 22 years to get the confidence I needed. I feel like the Army was my first job and this is my second proper role.”
Research by The Poppy Factory shows that 85 per cent of people in the north east think it would be difficult for someone living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to stay in paid work for 12 months or longer.
Deirdre Mills, chief executive of The Poppy Factory, said: “We know from experience that those who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder can find it very challenging to stay in a job, but with the right support over the long term, they often become the most dedicated, passionate and successful workers.
“Four fifths of the ex-forces men and women who are helped by The Poppy Factory have mental health conditions and many have complex cases of PTSD. Yet we have been able to help more than 1,000 veterans back into work across the UK since 2010, including at least 85 in the north east.
“By supporting The Poppy Factory’s Working With PTSD campaign, you can really help these men and women secure the positive futures they deserve.”
Find out more at poppyfactory.org/workingwithPTSD