Blogs Reports

Andrea Interviews Jennifer Dunston at the Great Tommy Sleep Out


Reported by Andrea

Published on Tuesday, April 9th, 2024

Accommodation Money and Finance Support and Relationships
Blogs Reports

Andrea Interviews Jennifer Dunston at the Great Tommy Sleep Out


Written by Andrea

Published on Tuesday, April 9th, 2024

Accommodation

Money and Finance

Support and Relationships

Interview with Jennifer Dunstan 

 

Andrea: Can you tell us about the great Tommy sleep out? 

Jennifer: In March 2024, thousands of people up and down the country are taking part. 

The event encourages people to do a sponsored sleep outside for one night, although some participants are doing several, with all monies raised going to Royal British Legion Industries (RBLI). RBLI supports homeless veterans, of which there are approx. 6,000, off our streets and into supported accommodation, rehabilitation, counselling; even homes such as adapted accommodation for those with physical disabilities too. 

The Charity has built a ‘Veterans Village’ in Aylesbury, where former service personnel can not only be accommodated, but can also support each other as part of a community where residents will have had similar experiences. 

 

What inspired you to sleep out for veterans? 

At 43 years old I’m still, along with many others my age, affectionately referred to as an ‘Army Brat’. I was born in West Germany (as it was then) to a member of the Royal Signals Regiment and a former member of the Women’s Royal Army Corps (WRAC). Both of my parents are veterans. 

When Mum was pregnant with me, she was dismissed from the Army as that was procedure at the time. Women were simply sacked if they got pregnant. My Dad went on to see active service on more than one occasion and also received his long service medal. 

I was 12 when we moved on to Civvy Street and even though I was a child, the change from army life to being among ordinary everyday people and the complete change in routine – from being on a school bus with armed guards to going out on my own and taking myself to and from school – was very hard to cope with. 

My parents got jobs in the Civil Service and telecommunications respectively, and slowly but surely we eased into our new family life. 

It was HARD! 

 

Where will the money that you have raised go? 

Coming from the background that I do, I’m all too aware of how acutely some of my parents’ former colleagues and veterans from other services can be affected. 

Be it from seeing active service, or simply that the change of armed forces life to ‘coming home’ to the UK and rejoining Civvy Street, veterans are affected in numerous ways. 

Some have PTSD as a result of what they’ve experienced while serving and are let down by a poorly funded health system, inadequately supported by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and can become reclusive, lose their jobs, develop addiction as a form of self-medicating… others have mainly physical disabilities as a result of injury during service. 

So many, far too many, end up on the streets. 

It varies so widely from person to person, and I wholeheartedly believe that each one deserves to be supported according to their individual needs. 

So, when I saw an online advert for The Big Tommy Sleepout, I firstly checked up on who the RBLI are and what they do and then set to work putting my sponsored event together. 

I have two kids, one aged 22 who has her own home and one who is nearly 13 and lives with me. 

I decided to use the event as an opportunity to educate my son on just a little of what his Nan and Grandad used to have to do as a part of their jobs in the army. 

So we built a hut in the garden together out of a pergola and some tarps, and I got a ration pack for us to survive on. We did a 24-hour long event, making fires for cups of tea and heating the ration pack food and wearing combat uniform. 

In total we raised just over £3,000. 

Friends, relatives and even strangers online were very generous. 

People are shocked when they hear that there are so many homeless veterans. 

Of course. Ideally, we would live in a world where charity is no longer needed, but while it does I think we each need to do what we can (within our means) and that includes campaigning or supporting campaigns for better treatment of and the rights of veterans; as well as a much wider range of issues. 

 

Who do you think should be doing more to support veterans into permanent housing? 

When it comes to the buck stopping, I strongly feel that it is with the Government and by extension the MOD to put robust measures in place to ensure that veterans leaving the military for any reason are appropriately supported onto Civvy Street. 

This MUST include well-funded and tailored medical care, social care, mental health services, education and accommodation. 

All those things as a minimum, for each veteran to be supported according to their needs. 

Everyone deserves a roof over their head and warm food in their tummy. 

But let’s face it, it’s the least we can do as a nation for those who selflessly sign up to put their lives in the line for us all as a vocation. 

 

How can others sign up to do the sleep out? 

The Great Tommy Sleep Out is taking place for all of March 2024, you can find out more and sign up to take part or donate here: https://rbli.co.uk/rbli-events/the-great-tommy-sleepout/  

‘Tommy’ is a term that has been used to refer to former squaddies as far back as the late 1700s. 

The story behind it was that in 1794, or thereabouts, the then Duke of Wellington saw a Private Tommy Atkins mortally wounded in battle, who in response to being offered some words of comfort replied, “all in a day’s work Sir”, then closed his eyes and passed away. 

The Duke saw to it that the man’s name would live on. 

So, when you’re walking past a homeless veteran or charity box, please remember Private Tommy Atkins and the pledges that all service personnel make. 

To lay down their lives for us without question. 

It’s the most precious gift one human can give to another, I so strongly believe that. 

Written by Andrea


I am a freelance journalist interested in empowering vulnerable communities to have their stories heard

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