Yorkshire Housing helps armed forces veterans
We have now reached the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings and the sacrifice of those who gave their lives in the 1939-45 war.
But we also are remembering those who served in the armed forces during later conflicts who are still with us today.
The freedom that we have to express ourselves now comes through their service to us.
And for the past 18 months, Yorkshire Housing’s Home Improvement Agency (HIA) has been helping veterans over 65 in North Yorkshire to maintain their independence.
This is through a Government scheme alongside the charity Community First Yorkshire.
One of the ways the HIA is helping is by carrying out DIY works and minor adaptations in their homes – works they may have been able to do at one time but are no longer able to do so.
They can be referred either by a friend or family or through an armed forces charity, such as the Royal British Legion.
This is then passed on to the HIA who send out a handyperson to see how they can help.
One of the handypersons is Adrian Southam, who has worked with the HIA for nine years.
Adrian has a keen interest in history and model making and this helps him build common ground with the veterans he is trying to help.
The dad-of-one, 46, of Northallerton, has visited the D-Day landing sites at Normandy, France, and the Arnhem battlefields in the Netherlands in pursuit of this interest.
And he has gained a good knowledge from veterans and ex-servicemen throughout his life.
One example is a former scout leader, who during the 1939-45 war was a railway surveyor near the border between India and Burma.
Adrian’s grandfather, Gordon, served as an ammunition driver in the mountains in Italy and worked after the war at the civil defence college near Easingwold, North Yorkshire.
This was the starting point for Adrian’s interest in the Second World War.
Some of the veterans Adrian and the HIA handypersons come into contact with have varied backgrounds and stories to tell.
In one case, kitchen taps were changed for lever taps at the home of an ex-RAF Maintenance Unit serviceman.
This veteran served at RAF Rufforth, servicing revolutionary Gloster Meteor fighter jets.
Another veteran had his overgrown garden cleared and tided up as he could no longer do this.
He served in the 8th Army in North Africa during the second El Alamein battle in 1942 and was mentioned in dispatches for rescuing his commanding officer on the back of his armoured recovery tank.
Adrian handles the veterans in a sensitive and empathetic manner and said: “You don’t push them, but let them offer their experiences to you. They’ve experienced things that neither you nor I can comprehend, and some are still traumatised by those events.”
In another situation, Adrian installed handrails for a former paratrooper to allow him to gain access to his garden.
While talking with him, Adrian discovered he had fought, been wounded and taken prisoner during the Arnhem conflict in the Netherlands in 1944.
The man, in his 90s, had only recently started talking about his experiences to local school children and has done two tandem parachute jumps for charity.
Adrian had visited the Arnhem commonwealth war graves for an anniversary commemoration and said: “There were children from the community stationed at each graveside.
“And at a given point they knelt down and put a flower on the grave. It was one of the most moving things I’ve seen.”
Adrian feels humbled to help and serve these individuals and added: “This is the best job ever and I love making a difference for those who have helped us keep our freedom. It’s the least I can do.”