Union of minds to help ex-forces staff
Professional rugby coach Sean Wright uses the skills he has learned on the pitch to help wounded and sick soldiers recover from wartime experiences. Chris Jones reports.
THOUGH he had seen his fair share of bone-crunching tackles on the pitch, nothing could prepare Sean Wright for the devastating injuries caused on the battlefield.
Having achieved his childhood dream of becoming a qualified rugby union full-time coach, the 45-year-old wanted to do more with his skills.
And, seeing an opportunity to take part in a new project aimed at helping sick and wounded former soldiers, he signed straight up.
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He said: "My background is ex-forces. I did five years in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, from 1986 to 1991. I was a supply specialist.
"I served in the Gulf when Saddam invaded and saw US bombers hitting UK troops. I saw myself, when I came out of the Army, what it was like to leave.
"I remember the first Guy Fawkes night. When all the fireworks went off, I was moving towards cover and that was after just three months out at war."
After a few years trying different jobs, including working as a mechanic, Mr Wright, of Ilkeston, moved to Stapleford.
In 1992, he joined Ilkeston Rugby Club, becoming a coach in 1995 and eventually earning his official RFU coaching qualification and becoming a full-time coach.
He said: "After a few years of doing this, I was looking for something to do to help others. I was ex-forces and I had heard of the work being done by the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association, SSAFA."
He saw an opportunity to take part in a new programme which paired mentors with men and women leaving the Army who were sick or hurt.
Mr Wright said: "The minimum was one hour a week for 12 months – a voluntary role – and the idea was to have your own mentee and just be there for them, meet with them when they wanted to and help them make the bridge from Army to civilian life.
"You have young lads from Chaddesden or Cotmanhay, they leave school and have a handful of GCSEs maybe, they join the Army and there's this whole system there for them.
"They are catered for and there is discipline and a well-ordered life. Then they come out and they're older, all their friends have established jobs and they have suddenly left this 'family'.
"They don't know simple things, like how to shop, or to get council tax sorted or pay bills. They've never had to. And this can hold them back from getting on with life."
Mr Wright said he was introduced to his mentee – who did not want to be named – as a man who had developed a brain tumour while serving in the Army. He had been posted in Afghanistan.
Mr Wright said: "The first meeting we had was just getting to know each other. He opened up quite easily.
"The important thing with something like this is just listening – not waiting for your turn to speak but listening. A lot of soldiers are reluctant to talk about things, so you must have patience."
Through spending time with Mr Wright, the mentee was put in touch with people in the software trade and is now training to be a software engineer.
Mr Wright said: "I brought him to the rugby club. I know a few people here and helped to get him some training.
"I was able to use my influence here to help him and it feels very satisfying."
Mr Wright said he spoke on the phone regularly with his mentee and was there to meet whenever he wanted.
He said: "I get a huge sense of fulfilment from this work. I wanted to be able to use my connection with the forces and the work I do now to help people and that's what I've done.
"I am hoping the programme will be rolled out across the country and would love to help others in the future."