It is 7.59am and in the main lobby of the London Stock Exchange, a few steps from St Paul’s Cathedral, a 60-second countdown has begun. As the large digital timer reaches zero, two people standing on the balcony press the glass block they are holding into its housing. A loud bell sounds and the screens around them light up with the words: “MARKET OPEN. CONTINUOUS TRADING.”
Those engaged in another relentless day of buying and selling across the capital may not have noticed, but the two people who opened trading yesterday were veterans – and both were given a helping hand by the charities being supported by The Independent’s appeal for Homeless Veterans.
“You feel a bit empowered, because you’ve started something off that could make a lot of money, or lose a lot of money,” said one of the pair, Darren McNamara. The 42-year-old, from Hackney in East London, was a Sergeant in the Royal Engineers, serving for 18 years.
He left the Army in October 2013 but had no property of his own and is currently a resident of New Belvedere House, the hostel for homeless ex-servicemen run by Veterans Aid. Nine other residents arose early and made the journey across the capital to support him.
Mr McNamara said he “wasn’t in a good place” when he left the Services. Without the charity’s help, he believes that he would have been “wandering round from hostel to hostel” to avoid sleeping rough on the streets of London.
“I would have been pretty lost. But they give you the opportunity to settle in and sort out any issues you’ve got, and from there it’s about standing on your own two feet and getting ready to move on,” he said. “It isn’t something that I’ve ever had dreams about – ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to open the stock market’ – but it shows that they can make things happen for you.”
Standing alongside him to open trading was Siobhan Weller, 34, a former soldier with the Royal Logistics Corps, whose story has already featured in The Independent. After struggling with a medical condition when she left the Army, she was helped by ABF The Soldiers’ Charity, which paid for a deposit and the first month’s rent on her flat, enabling her to take a job at the Houses of Parliament.
“This time last year I was on a friend’s settee with no home, no job, no future whatsoever,” she said. “Here I am now, 12 months later, in the Stock Exchange ringing the bell to start the market. If anybody’s out there who’s just left the forces and are thinking ‘Oh my God’ – they should know that life goes up and down and they need to roll with the punches.”
Dr Hugh Milroy, the CEO of Veterans Aid, said: “We are proud to be supported by the London Stock Exchange, for whom I believe Churchill’s mantra ‘Action this day’ is as important as it is for us – through immediate intervention we stop the cycle of crisis and we support ex-servicemen and women until they are back on their feet.
“Ten of our boys from the hostel attended this unique event and by far the most important aspect for them was that they were acknowledged by such a prestigious organisation. It is easy for those who have struggled on the streets to think themselves invisible, but the LSE actually showed the world that our boys are worthy.”
Major General (Ret’d) Martin Rutledge, chief executive at The Soldiers’ Charity, added: “Having the London Stock Exchange support this campaign and allow our beneficiaries to open the day’s trading is a real honour and privilege. We continue to hear how much the appeal has positively affected veterans who have needed our help, and with continued backing after the campaign ends we shall ensure that no veteran is forgotten about.”
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