Proper Gander: Soldiering On

DIY SOS – Homes For Veterans (BBC1) is the makeover show’s ‘biggest ever challenge’. Cheeky chappie presenter Nick Knowles and his team of builders, technicians and volunteers have 12 days to renovate a dilapidated terrace street in Manchester. This is to create a therapeutic and accessible community for ex-armed forces personnel with physical and mental health conditions.

It’s striking that people choose to go into a profession that they’re likely to leave with life-changing injuries and trauma. Presumably, filling your head with enough nationalism to kill for ‘your’ country, and living in a regimented bubble makes you accept the risks of being a soldier. Adapting from the army mindset back into civvy street can be enough of a struggle, even without additional problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, brain damage or the loss of a limb, as suffered by tens of thousands of armed forces personnel. If their mobility has been affected, then the home they move back to needs to be made more accessible. The houses being renovated on DIY SOS are purpose-built around the  veterans’ needs, almost uniquely. Ex-soldier John has anxiety and flashbacks triggered by loud noises, which have put pressures on his family life. In his new home, the front room has been designed to make him feel more settled, and his bedroom has been soundproofed to improve his sleep.

Perhaps there has always been an epidemic of posttraumatic stress disorder among ex-service personnel, and now it’s just recognised more. This doesn’t mean that everyone suffering from PTSD gets treatment and support for it, or even any kind of housing. Around 9,000 ex-soldiers are homeless, having been abandoned by the state they fought for. So, only a few of the people in need will benefit from DIY SOS’s community.

The cornerstones of any programme like this are the snappily-edited race against time to get the work done, the blokey builders’ banter, and the emotional reveal of the new homes. The ‘blitz spirit’ is evoked more than once, although not in the context of it being another military slaughter. The only break from the formula is a visit by princes William and Harry, figureheads of the society which creates the wars these veterans have been victims of.  We shouldn’t be too  cynical, though. Projects like this remind us that people are happy to co-operate and volunteer to help others. But it would still be better to work towards a society which doesn’t create the need for wars, nor institutions like the armed forces.


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