TSB Community Heroes - Claire Wright & Chris Squires

Veterans set up a charity to help former servicemen and women, and former members of the emergency services, struggling with civilian life.

For some veterans, adjusting to life on civvy street can be a huge struggle.
Claire Wright and Chris Squires faced this challenge themselves which inspired them to devote their lives to helping other veterans, to prevent anyone from feeling as unsupported as they had.
Claire, 46, served for eight years in the Royal Navy and Chris, 38, for 13 years in the Army. As they learned to live ‘on the outside’ they met up and found they had lots in common - not least wanting to help others like them.
They set up Trafford Veterans in 2015, to lend support to veterans and former emergency service personnel who are struggling or feeling isolated, as well as their families and volunteers who help them. Since then they have engaged with thousands of people, helping them to lead fulfilling lives.
The couple, from Stretford, were surprised with their TSB Community Hero award at the world-leading Imperial War Museum North.
As they walked through the gates, music rang out from dynamic brass quintet Cobalt Brass, and BBC Breakfast and Five Live presenter Naga Munchetty was waiting in the wings with their trophy.
Claire said afterwards: “We just thought, what on earth is going on? It was just ‘wow’. To my delight they were playing Heart of Oak, the official march of the Royal Navy. That was much to the annoyance of Chris, as he is ex-army.
“Naga was absolutely lovely and the whole thing made me cry. I lost my dad to cancer in July last year. The very next day I was out delivering food, because life goes on and people still need food. But the first person I wanted to tell about the award was my dad. He would have been super proud.
“We are really both overwhelmed. We do it because there is a need and we enjoy it. If people need help, it’s a no brainer. We just go out and do it although we could not have done any of this without our wonderful volunteers.”
The couple started the charity with little more than a table covered with leaflets about support available. Since then, their organisation has blossomed to include a breakfast club, a model and craft group, a walking football team, an allotment group and a regular community drop-in session. And they don’t just help the veterans, they welcome their families too. One club is specifically for military wives.
They also provide information, advice and guidance to get veterans in Trafford back into employment, and help with referrals to mental health services.
Claire explains: “At our first veterans’ breakfast we had about 30 people. There were more than 117 at our most recent one and we hold one a month.”
Prior to the lockdown they also had cadets coming in to mix with their older veterans. “They would love to sit with World War II veterans and form a bond. It was like they were speaking to rock stars. The veterans also loved speaking to the youngsters.”
The lockdown has meant many activities have had to be curtailed. But that didn’t mean Claire and Chris have been any less busy. Over the past year, they’ve been helping their community of veterans, the oldest aged 100, cope with lockdown and its aftermath providing welfare checks, food parcels and hosting online events.
“We did lots of doorstep visits, dropping food and making sure we had a bit of banter. We did that for 54 weeks. If you have a passion for something, and lived experience, and are willing to work at something, anything is possible.”
The couple met 11 years ago. “For me, I had been a helicopter mechanic, and those skills were not easily transferable in civvy street, and I found it really hard to find a job,” says Claire.
“It was harder for Chris because he joined at 17 and when he left because of injury, that was all he knew, all that support and structure. He has driven all sorts of vehicles but it didn’t count for anything when he left the army.
“For him it was like leaving a family. That is why we set up the group. Because we knew so many others felt the same.
“There are military charities that will help you with practical things like kitchen appliances or help with food shopping. But what they can’t help with is the camaraderie and peer support.
“We know what it is like to struggle ourselves, both the financial and mental health struggle and we’ve always thought if we can help just one family that is worth it. Luckily we’ve been able to help many more.”

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