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'The future was scary ... my wife kept asking me: where are we going to live?'



For Lance Corporal Alastair Skene, 31, formerly of the King's Own Scottish Borderers, the debt of gratitude is fully reciprocated. He now lives with his two children in one of the attractive inter-war terraced houses in Bonnyrigg, Midlothian owned by the Scottish Veterans Garden City Association (SVGCA).

From a shed in the garden he runs a picture-framing business sponsored by other military charities.

Enlisted at 17, the Hawick-born soldier was looking forward to serving "the full 22" [years] until a bout of meningitis left him with chronic health conditions, including arthritis and depression.

Although he finds self-employment quite lonely after army camaraderie, he is full of praise for SVGCA for removing his biggest fear: providing for his family.

"When I learned I was being medically discharged we were living in army quarters. I worried about how were going to get accommodation," he said.

"The future was very scary. We had a date when we would have to leave our army quarters but as we were still living there we were, of course, not classed as homeless and you don't go on a council housing list until your discharge date. It was a ticking time bomb, and my wife was getting very upset every day, asking 'where are we going to live?'

"Through my personal recovery officer I got a call from the SVGCA saying this place was free, and I got the keys two weeks later. My mates, one of whom is a joiner, sorted it all out for us, including painting and laying the carpets. Our neighbours are veterans or veterans' widows."

"It's far better than anything I could have hoped for. Housing is a bit of a lottery for discharged servicemen. I know plenty of disabled guys who are living in local authority housing, which could mean the top floor of a tenement. This place is absolutely fantastic and the rent is very affordable."


Brian Sivewright, 25, lives with his wife and son in a street of SVGCA-owned houses in Broughty Ferry, Dundee. An Army logistician who volunteered for Afghanistan, his personnel carrier was blown up by an 80kg improvised explosive device on a mission in support of a Marine unit in July 2011.

Both his legs and ankles were badly broken, requiring a series of operations. "The problems turned out to be worse than was originally thought and I was medically discharged," he said. The shock of forced unemployment was relieved when he was given a "great house in a great area" while he undergoes further surgery and physiotherapy. His goal is to get a job in the offshore oil and gas industry if recovery allows. Although the house is his for life, he says: "If I'm coining it in, I'll give up the house to someone else who needs it."


Caithness man Bill Sutherland, 56, served on HMS Plymouth as an electrical engineer during the Falklands and first Gulf Wars. Family life was made impossible by violent flashbacks to the time under Argentine bombardment, triggered by darkened spaces like cinemas and by fire alarms.

Invalided out of the Royal Navy in 1996 after a breakdown, he was found a house in north Edinburgh by Houses for Heroes in 2000, and has become a passionate advocate for their work, alongside many other Scottish veterans' causes.

He said: "The SVGCA was founded during WWI when people were coming home injured. The slogan then was 'homes fit for heroes' and after 100 years history has come full circle. Recent wars have made the need for good housing as urgent as ever."

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