Home for Christmas: Veterans look forward to celebrating Christmas in new homes

Army veteran Bobby Jones has hung up his Christmas decorations for the first time in 14 years after finally finding a place to call home.

For more than a decade Bobby Jones has been homeless or moving from one private let to another.

The 53-year-old’s precarious living situation started after he suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on his return from tours in theatres of war including Bosnia, two tours of Northern Ireland during the Troubles, and a tour of Iraq in 1991 where Bobby lost three friends who were killed in a friendly fire incident by a US A-10 aircraft.

Bobby pushed his family away and his marriage broke down as he struggled to come to terms with what he’d seen.

Over the past decade Bobby had experienced homelessness four times. At one point sleeping in his car for several weeks and on other occasions sofa surfing or living in hostels.

Having been helped to manage his PTSD by the charity Combat Stress, Bobby now has a place to call home this Christmas after moving into his two-bed home with Riverside Scotland in Irvine in September this year.

He is one of nine veterans the housing association has allocated a home to out of the 77 properties built in phase 2 of the Tarryholme development in the North Ayrshire town.

Bobby said: “This year I finally feel like I have a home for Christmas. Being in one place is a big relief for me. I feel much more at ease now. I wasn’t settled before, I was always moving. I feel I’m not going to be thrown out of my home, the landlord’s not going to sell it.”

Another veteran, John Canavan-Daly, 45, who left his role as a corporal in the Royal Logistics Corps 13 years ago, moved into his three-bed bungalow four weeks ago.

“This place is life changing,” he said. “It’s like all my Christmases come at once. I feel safe here.” Although married when he came out of the army, John divorced 10 years ago, and since then has lived in a caravan and several private rented homes.

Veterans support service Veterans First Point, which works with Riverside Scotland, alerted Bobby and John to the new homes being built in Irvine and asked if they were interested.

In 2021 Riverside Scotland and Veterans First Point, which is part of the NHS, set up a ‘service level agreement’ to support veterans to maintain their tenancies.

Veterans First Point told Bobby about the possibility of a home last Christmas and John, who lives with his 17- and 5-year-old sons in his new home, heard about it 18 months ago.

John said when he heard the news he was “absolutely blown away”. “I pretty much broke down there and then. I couldn’t believe someone was offering me that.”

Bobby, who served with the Queens Own Highlanders – which amalgamated with the Gordon Highlanders in 1994 to form The Highlanders – said: “Veterans First Point told me Riverside Scotland were building new houses. They said do you want one and I said, ‘I’d love one’”.

Bobby lives in his home with his two Yorkshire terriers and is looking forward to watching a film or two on Christmas Day, with his 23-year-old son coming to see him and “perhaps having a steak”.

John said: “I haven’t really enjoyed Christmas since I got divorced. But now I’m here with my boys and it’s going to be fantastic”. On Christmas Day, he is hoping to be “smiling and listening to Christmas songs”.

Bobby, whose complex post-traumatic stress was diagnosed after he was injured in Bosnia in 1995, said the Riverside staff had been “really helpful”, helping him get onto universal credit and “talking me through how things work”.

John, who lives in a bungalow because of mobility issues as a result of his time in the army, has also suffered mental health issues in the past 10 years. He said if it wasn’t for Veterans First Point he “wouldn’t be here”.

Both John and Bobby said the new houses built on Riverside Scotland’s Tarryholme properties are their ‘homes for life’.

Riverside Scotland has a strong commitment to supporting veterans and has a policy of committing more than 10% of its new homes to veteran households.

In Tarryholme it exceeded the 10% target, with 12% of the homes being for veterans.

Heather Anderson, Head of Service Delivery and Veterans Lead at Riverside Scotland, said: “Supporting the provision of affordable and suitable housing for veteran households is a key strategic objective for Riverside Scotland. As an organisation we are aware that there are often insufficient housing options for people who have been discharged from the Armed Forces, and a lack of sustainable support to address the needs of these households. We were keen to develop long term supported housing options for veterans and their families, to ensure they are fully supported in their housing journey after serving their country.

“Our partnership with Veterans First Point provides a much-needed combination of secure and suitable housing, alongside support to address any mental, physical, emotional, and tenancy related needs for veterans and their families, for as long as it is needed.

“We are so delighted to see our veteran customers happy and settled in their new homes and able to start the next chapter of their lives secure in the knowledge they have a permanent home.”

Lee Buss-Blair, The Riverside Group’s Veteran Lead said: “Riverside have a long-standing commitment to the Armed Forces Community. The work of Diana and her team in Scotland is a great example of that commitment in action and will make a huge difference to the lives of the veterans they house.”

This year Riverside Scotland has also developed Scotland’s largest affordable modular housing scheme in Dundonald. At Dundonald 11 of its 63 homes (18%) are for veterans.