John Wilcocks and Paul McCann are both former servicemen, who have faced different challenges in recent times.
John is an ex-paratrooper who was medically discharged due to injury in 1978. Now 70, he was hit by the death of his daughter in April, which was made doubly hard by lockdown restrictions that prevented him visiting her in hospital or hold a proper funeral. Paul was in the Army from 1998 to 2006, serving in Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq, and has been diagnosed with PTSD, greatly limiting his social life.
Both John and Paul have been helped by the FirstLight Trust, which supports ex forces and emergency service workers and provides community café hubs. Through CDO Sarah Cunnold, Cycling UK has helped to set up a community cycle club at the hub in Gosport, Hampshire, funding bikes and equipment and training.
“I started going to the hub because I heard it had great coffee, but then I got more and more involved in the activities, so it was great when they set up the cycling club,” says John. “Everyone is so sympathetic and kind, and when my daughter passed away they were very understanding. The group rides had to stop during lockdown, but they started doing one-to-one rides as soon as that was allowed so that we were still able to get out on the bikes.”
Paul has found the cycle club, and other outdoor hub activities such as allotment gardening, especially helpful. “With PTSD, I can’t go to crowded places like pubs because I just feel under threat and hypervigilant all the time. I essentially had no social life outside of my family, but at the club I am with people who have been through the same thing as me, so they understand and I don’t feel like I am being judged.”