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Pub Lunch Boosts Confidence For Selly Oak Soldiers

April 19, 2010

For severely injured soldiers being treated at Selly Oak Hospital, the first trip out to a local pub has become an important part of coming to terms with severe injuries.

The idea came to Sergeant Marc Sutcliffe when he himself was lying wounded in the hospital.

Sgt Sutcliffe stands out in the lunchtime crush with his beret and combat fatigues.

His regular visits with injured soldiers from Birmingham’s Selly Oak make him a well-known face here, and he cuts a tall, imposing figure standing at the bar.

It’s all very different from the first time he came. “I really wanted a mixed-grill and I’d heard they did a good one here,” he says.

“So I got in my wheelchair and came over, and ended up doing the whole menu!

“Coming in on my own was a bit weird. But I thought, ‘I’m not going to let this injury stop me doing what I did before’.”

It was 2006, and Sgt Sutcliffe had just lost a leg after being hit by a rocket-propelled grenade near Basra. Luckily for him, it hadn’t detonated – but the wound still left him adjusting to a life-changing injury.

Important role

His visit to the pub made him feel better, and the idea was born. Now, as a Military Liaison Officer, he’s responsible for links between injured soldiers, their families, and units.

The trips to the pub are just a small part of his role – but an important one, he says.

“It’s evolved since then. Then we didn’t have Military Liaison Officers. Now it’s formalised and we do it as often as we need to.”

Very rarely do we get an adverse reaction – if anything, the public around here are really good to us
Sgt Marc Sutcliffe

Sgt Sutcliffe’s parties of injured troops always book in advance. The pub (which can’t be named for security reasons) reserves their places and takes drinks orders at the table because the soldiers may find it difficult making it to the bar.

The pub regulars, he says, are relaxed about it.

“Very rarely do we get an adverse reaction. If anything, the public around here are really good to us. When we go to pay, we find that someone has already taken care of it.”

The pub’s assistant manager, Sam Vaziri, agrees: “It’s a boost because the regulars do a lot of fundraising with us for Help the Heroes. We’ve raised £3,000-4,000. It’s not nice to see people coming in who haven’t got arms and legs. You just do what you can to help.”

“The soldiers look forward to it and you see it lifts their spirits,” says Sgt Sutcliffe.

“When we get back to the hospital they go to bed and fall asleep – because they’ve had a bellyful. But I think it does wonders for them. If they had concerns that people would stare or something, so many times they are proved unfounded.”

Confidence

Still, occasionally soldiers are reluctant to come out, and others insist on a nurse coming along.

“A soldier may not want to come out, he may feel safe and secure in the hospital,” he says, adding that no-one is forced to come but that it’s always beneficial.

“Very often we see the mums and dads and families and they say: ‘He’s improved loads since he went out.’ And then they have the confidence to take them out.

“It reintroduces the men to a crowded public area. Some of these guys have got life-changing injuries and it gives them the self-confidence they may need to deal with those.

“It also gives them the chance to talk to other injured soldiers. And it’s always good for a mum or dad to see their injured son or daughter smile – even in the most difficult circumstances.”

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