Life is back on track for injured RAF veteran Stephen Ashcroft of Cheshire, thanks to a new partnership between the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund and Barclays.
For Stephen, his RAF career unexpectedly came to an end when his vehicle drove over an Improvised Explosive Device leaving him with life-changing injuries and an uncertain future.
Stephen, then a Corporal serving with No. 2 Squadron, RAF Regiment, was on his second tour in Afghanistan when his unit was deployed to Kandahar airfield to respond to an emerging threat, which was later identified as a ploy. As a machine gunner, Stephen and his unit’s responsibility was to maintain the security of the airfield and the staff working there. When his vehicle left the airfield area, it triggered the IED which killed the vehicle’s 20-year-old driver and left Stephen with devastating injuries.
In 2013 and just age 31, Stephen was discharged from the service and was faced with the daunting prospect of finding a new career outside of the RAF.
Stephen said: "A key aspect to making a successful transition back into civilian life was to find a job I was going to be really passionate about. For me the degree in biology did just that.
"The RAF was unable to fund my entire tuition, which is why I approached the RAF Benevolent Fund. They offered to pay for the remainder of my fees, including my foundation degree in natural sciences and my degree in biology. Their support ultimately enabled me to achieve my goal as I wouldn't have been able to afford it without their funding."
As part of its wide portfolio of support for the RAF Family, the RAF Benevolent Fund provides transition grants of up to £12,000 per veteran to support bespoke resettlement programmes for RAF personnel who are Wounded, Injured & Sick (WIS) and medically discharged from service.
The training helps fill skills gaps that could limit employment opportunities in the civilian world or help a veteran retrain for a new career following life-changing injuries.
The RAF Benevolent Fund have partnered with Barclays to provide these grants, through the Barclays AFTER programme. Every year Barclays supports Servicemen and women with their transition into civilian employment after serving in the Armed Forces, and aims to highlight the economic value these highly skilled individuals can bring to the world of work.
Stephen said: "I’m so grateful to the Fund and Barclays for helping me with my university fees – I couldn't have started this degree without them. It has totally changed my life and given me the opportunity to achieve something that I wouldn't have been able to do without their help."
Stephen now has a successful career working as a DNA analyst for a forensics company.
Paul Hughesdon, Director of Welfare and Policy at the RAF Benevolent Fund, said: "We are delighted that Barclays has chosen to support the RAF Benevolent Fund in this way. As the RAF's leading welfare charity, Barclays' grant will help the charity continue to improve the employability of Wounded, Injured & Sick veterans, helping them and their families live more secure and productive lives. This donation will allow us to continue our strong support for WIS personnel by providing transition grants to help more young veterans like Stephen with life after injury."
Stuart Tootal, Head of the Barclays Armed Forces Transition Employment and Resettlement (AFTER) programme, said: "Ex-servicemen and women have a wealth of experience and an innate skill set that can bring real value to the civilian workplace. We are committed to providing service personnel with the tools and support they need to help build and translate their skills so they make a successful transition on to civvy street."