A successful Hull businessman has played a crucial role in the rallying call to get hundreds of military veterans back to the front line as part of the UK’s battle with coronavirus.
Teams of former armed forces personnel are playing a pivotal role staffing the government’s Covid-19 drive-through testing centres, mobile testing units and walk-in test centres after being recruited by specialist security firm SSGC, whose managing director, David Stubbs, grew up and still lives in Hessle.
Father-of-three David, who also owns Ciao restaurant in Hull’s Boothferry Road, was a key driver in the management buy-out of SSGC, where the business’ turnover has grown to £70 million this year.
It has mobilised more than 1,000 thoroughly-vetted security offers, traffic marshals and operations staff in a matter of weeks to provide services to 45 testing centres and 53 mobile testing units as a supplier to both Serco and Sodexo. They are managing the centres on behalf of the Department of Health and Social Care.
David, himself a former military police officer, is behind the drive to provide veterans with a second chance to serve their country, after signing the Armed Forces Covenant, an undertaking to support the welfare and wellbeing of uniformed personnel.
“The business signed up and we take that commitment very seriously,” said David, a member of the local Royal Military Police Association and West Hull Breakfast Club which a few veterans have joined.
“We are a specialist security business which has invested heavily in wrap-around technology to support our business proposition and vision of delivering the best service.
“As a result, SSGC has been able to use our automated vetting capability, which allows the rapid scaling of personnel, to place more than 1,000 new employees across the country – many of whom are distinguished military veterans.
“It’s hugely important to us to support veterans, many of whom have lost jobs or positions they have worked hard to achieve since leaving the forces.
“They are doing a truly excellent job as part of this huge national effort and we’re delighted to be able to provide such trusted and experienced personnel.”
As well as its commitment to the AFC, Swindon-based SSGC worked closely with the Yorkshire Regiment Association to help recruit veterans to work at the testing centres.
Major Pat Ralph, chairman of the YRA, said: “Our call to arms went out across the three Yorkshire regiments – The Prince of Wales’s Own Regiment of Yorkshire, The Green Howards and the Duke of Wellington’s, veteran NHS fundraiser Col Sir Tom Moore’s former regiment.
“The response was overwhelming. For our veterans, this is an opportunity to give something back to their communities, to get involved with like-minded people and, for many, new qualifications are also in the offing.”
Kate Davies, NHS director of health and justice and armed forces, said: “It’s fantastic that veterans are stepping up to support the country once again in the fight against Covid-19.
“We at NHS England and NHS Improvement are hugely grateful to them for providing their expertise and skillset at testing centres across England in this time of need.”
For Jonathan Brasher OBE, operations director for the Serco-managed testing centres, it built on a 50 year proud partnership with the armed forces in the UK.
He said:“When Serco was asked by the DHSC to manage a number of the Covid-19 drive-through testing centres, we reached out to organisations such as SSGC to support us.
“We are delighted this has resulted in so many veterans working at the centres and, once again, making a valuable effort to the national effort, this time to tackle Covid-19.”
‘It’s really a wartime effort during peacetime’ – meet the veterans on the pandemic front line
James Parker, 31, enjoyed a distinguished seven-year career as a military policeman before deciding to spend more time with his young family and training as a self-employed enforcement agent last year.
With his make-up artist partner also turning self-employed and enjoying a burgeoning business in 2019, the couple found that when the UK went into lockdown in March, work suddenly dried up for them both.
James, from Sheffield, used social media to reach out to David Stubbs and has been working at a testing facility for the last few weeks in what he describes as a second opportunity to ‘serve Queen and country’ – and at the same time provide for his family after facing possible financial disaster.
James said: “I had a great career as a military policeman. I went into it with just GCSEs and left with a degree and experience of working abroad, having made great friends and being part of a fantastic community.
“I was stationed in Germany before moving to Telford but I made the decision to leave the forces in February 2019 when my partner became pregnant with our second child.
“I trained in close protection and took a job as a self-employed enforcement agent. When the pandemic struck my work dried up and as both my partner and myself are self-employed, we found ourselves struggling financially.
“I applied online for a role providing help at one of the testing stations but hadn’t heard anything back. I reached out to David on LinkedIn and he offered me an interview. I’ve been working now for nearly a month.
“You sign up to the Armed Forces to protect Queen and country and by helping at these NHS testing centres, we’re now helping Queen and country in another way.
“A lot of people go through the drive-through centres each day and I think they get real reassurance from seeing a military veteran on guard and helping out.
“We have had people leaving say to us that they were really nervous and scared when they arrived but we helped put their minds as ease, so that’s obviously a really nice part of the work.”
David Childs, 52, from Penistone, spent 24 years in the infantry with the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment before leaving the forces and going into close protection. He has spent 11 years in Iraq and the past three years in Kabul, working with the Australian Embassy to help repair the country’s infrastructure and economy.
He was home on leave when lockdown came into force and was unable to return.
He volunteered as an NHS case worker, before being put in touch with SSGC via Major Ralph and the Yorkshire Regiment Association.
David spent three weeks working at a testing centre before making a delayed return to Kabul.
“It’s really a wartime effort during peacetime,” he said. “ I normally work out in Kabul helping with the aid service and getting their economy going again.
“From what I have seen during my time at the testing centres, and at home in Penistone, there is a real sense of community and that British bulldog spirit to help others and band together – that’s going to be absolutely key to the country’s recovery.
“I thoroughly enjoyed being able to help the cause. My flight back to Kabul was obviously cancelled and I wanted to do my bit to help out.
“It’s plain to see how seriously service veterans are taking this. Ultimately, we provide much-needed experience and reassurance in very difficult circumstances and apply our skills and expertise to different procedures.”
Another veteran joining the fight against Coronavirus and enjoying being part of another tight-knit community is Omar Barrow, from Wakefield.
The 33-year-old joined the forces aged 22 in April 2009. He spent time stationed in Germany, Afghanistan, Kenya and Cyprus, before returning to the UK at Castle Donnington.
However, Omar suffers from a rare liver illness and had to undergo two separate surgeries, in 2017 and 2018, and was unable to return to operational duties.
He has just started work at a testing centre. He said: “I loved my life in the army and when I had to leave due to illness, I felt a real loss of community.
“I saw this job advertised online and applied because I knew it would suit my skillset and it’s another way of protecting people, so I’m proud to be part of it. In a way, it’s given another great sense of community and a real purpose.
“I saw a lot of things and went through many emotions in the army, so I’m certainly not thrown by working at a Covid testing centre but at the same time it’s obviously a new experience for me. One which I’m grateful for and will be taking incredibly seriously.”
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