When Tommy Lowther enrolled on the Business Experience course in 2016, run by X-Forces Enterprise (XFE) for Help for Heroes, he made an immediate impression on the team. A kind-hearted ‘Geordie’ determined to help his Forces comrades, Tommy was in the early stages of building Sporting Force yet it was clear that the idea – to work with football clubs throughout the UK to provide opportunities for veterans – had great potential.
Prior to the XFE course, Help for Heroes had been treating Army veteran Tommy for PTSD, which he’d battled for more than 15 years. Having grown up in a small town in County Durham, he described how he felt like ‘a boy in a man’s world’ when he was posted to Northern Ireland at just 18-years-old. Serving with the First Battalion Light Infantry, Tommy had faced a constant stream of petrol bombs, bottles, bricks and burning tyres; he was even set on fire. Tommy had felt so desperate when he left the Army as to seriously consider suicide, he said:
“PTSD is a dark, dark place. One of the lowest points was an episode of psychosis when I was seeing things and hearing voices. You genuinely feel like the world would be better off without you. I couldn’t see how I was going to get past it. I thought I’d do the world a favour. I lost my job over it and that’s when I went to Help for Heroes for some help. Their programme gave me the tools to pull myself out of the hole. It flipped from PTSD having a hold of me to me having a hold of PTSD. I wasn’t going to let it control me anymore and it was during my time with them that I come up with the concept of Sporting Force.”
Having turned his life around from the brink, he wanted to help other veterans to experience a more positive transition from the Armed Forces, linked to his passion for sport. Tommy registered Sporting Force as a charity in 2015 and, in the subsequent months, XFE helped Tommy with guidance on administration and planning in order to build his ideas into viable programmes.
With his proposition pinned down, and the backing of Help for Heroes and XFE, Tommy set about making contact with football clubs. He found them to warmly welcome the concept and genuinely want to help wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women.
Quickly Sporting Force implemented it’s first work experience placements, which soon turned into employed positions, and meanwhile, the first Match Day events brought together isolated and struggling veterans in exciting social event to build confidence and support networks.
While the charity business grew, the Newcastle supporter and father-of-two also found the time to launch a league for primary schools in the local area. Tommy explains why sport can help:
“Football has always been my passion. It is the most popular sport on the planet and the English Premiership probably the most exciting and certainly the most famous in the world. Football is about passion and commitment – and every club is a like a family. A football club is like a microcosm of society, with a broad range of working opportunities, from catering to security, gardening to marketing. These organisations are not unlike the Armed Forces except, of course, that every week, millions of ordinary people are on the terraces or in front of a TV screen, sharing the joy, and the pain, of their team.”
Sporting Force has engaged with around 1300 veterans in the last two years and, in 2018 alone, the charity gave out in excess of 700 match day tickets to veterans and their friends and families. Tommy remains modest about the incredible progress he’s made in three short years:
“I have no real experience in business, I’m just lucky that what I have done up to now has worked, with X-Forces guiding me through my business plan and financial forecast. They didn’t do it for me, but they certainly gave me the tools to be able to take Sporting Force to levels that I’m not sure I could have done myself. With the wealth of knowledge, commitment, passion and hard work of the X-Forces team I feel that I have a fantastic support network behind me.”
Sporting Force supports ex-service personnel that have been wounded, injured or become sick during their service, by arranging work experience placements which can offer a route into civilian employment within the professional sports industry.
Sporting Force also helps veterans and their families by offering education, exercise and social events to help relieve mental health and social isolation. All the opportunities are free of charge, inclusive and can be adapted to meet the needs of our disabled veterans.
Research has suggested that the two best self-help strategies are exercise and social support. For anxiety sufferers exercise helps reduce worry, panic and other symptoms. Sporting Force offers sport, exercise, camaraderie and being part of a team again, things that veterans all miss. Tommy said:
“PTSD and mental health affect the whole family; we understand the pressures and pain involved. Making services open to partners of veterans and PTSD sufferers we offer access to support and opportunities for the families, an opportunity to meet others who understand what it’s like to care for their loved ones, giving the opportunity to mutually support each other. Families are so important to Service personnel after being injured; some provide unpaid care. Research has shown that if a caregiver is well supported, then the recovery is improved.”
Sporting Force is working with clubs across the English Football League and has implemented specialist recruitment schemes at Tottenham Hotspur FC, Leeds United and Chelsea FC. They also work with professional rugby clubs, and are moving into other sports arenas.
Tommy had closely followed the Soldiering On Awards over the years, applauding the ethos of celebrating those supporting military community. and recalls the moment he heard the announcement during the ceremony:
“I immediately burst into tears, all the emotions of, the hard work; the commitment from the Sporting Force staff; the countless hours I had worked on my little table at home at the start; the horrific time I had trying to fight my PTSD. The fact that founding Sporting Force was the very thing that stopped me completing suicide, and the sacrifices that people had made in order for us to be sat in that room that night was completely overwhelming, and a feeling that I will never forget. We have achieved great things as a charity over the last four years and winning this award is up there with the best of them.”
Tommy Lowther is undeniably one of the most inspiring leaders that XFE supports. Beyond the Help for Heroes Business Experience course – Tommy had attended an early cohort of the scheme which has now helped 200 WIS servicemen and women in 33 cohorts over the last three years – XFE mentors Tommy as a leader and supports the charity’s continued growth, as well as making introductions to other beneficiaries and partners. CEO, Ren Kapur MBE, said:
“Tommy has a huge heart. He has had the courage to speak out about his horrific and tortuous experiences and build on them with something wholly positive for others. It has been our pleasure to be part of the Sporting Force journey with Tommy, who is now a role model for the many beneficiaries in the XFE network. He has shown that passion and determination – teamed with the right support – can be all you need to achieve your aims.”
For more information about Sporting Force, and how you can get involved as an individual or partner organisation, find them at:
X-Forces Enterprise (XFE) is an award-winning Community Interest Company that nurtures entrepreneurial ambition in the UK military community, and official delivery partner to the government’s Start Up Loans Company and MoD’s Career Transition Partnership. XFE supports Service leavers, veterans, spouses, cadets and Armed Forces family members to start their own businesses with a full package of training, finance, networking and mentoring. Start your journey by registering today here.