Mathew Burrows Life After Service
Life after service

Former RAF Pilot Builds Construction Firm For Veteran Tradesmen

Discover how something as simple as building a home can inspire an exciting new business idea

Mathew Burrows Life After Service

Matthew Burrows, 41, is a Royal Air Force veteran who spotted a business opportunity while going through the process of building a new home for his family.

Although still in the Armed Forces when his ‘light-bulb moment’ occurred, he eventually left the military to set up his own self-build construction company made up of himself and other veterans.

Currently in its early stages, Matthew’s business, 'Self Build Heroes', offers a great way for veterans to re-train and develop specialist construction skills while enjoying the comradery of colleagues with an Armed Forces background.

Inspired By A RAF Colleague

Former RAF officer and pilot, Matthew, spent 17 years flying the likes of Puma and Merlin helicopters.

He joined the Armed Forces in 2000 where he met his wife; they went on to have two children.

While on deployment, Matthew sadly lost two colleagues in an incident.

The tragedy led to Matthew reflecting on his own life and career.

While at the funeral of one of his late colleagues, Matthew discovered they had just finished building a home for his family.

Although deeply saddened that his colleague wasn’t around to enjoy the home he’d built, Matthew felt inspired by his achievement and compelled to build a home for his own family.

After living in military married quarters for years, Matthew loved the idea that building a new home would be an affordable way to create his family’s own space, with its own character.

Also, the prospect of continually being moved from location to location with long periods apart from loved ones spurred Matthew on to create a permanent base for his family.

The Origins Of Self Build Heroes

Having already held an interest in self-build for years, it wasn’t long before Matthew was looking for a construction site.

In 2014, the ideal location popped up in Merseyside, on land earmarked for self-build projects by the government.

With Matthew’s family still based in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, it was a huge commitment to take on.

Despite the distance Matthew threw himself into the project in 2015, making the 400-mile round trip most weekends over two years. The family moved into the property in 2018 when Matthew retired from the RAF.

He completed his property with the help of local tradespeople who were also veterans known for great qualities such as reliability and trustworthiness.

Shortly before leaving the RAF, Matthew decided to begin work on a second project; he was planning to work with a team of former military people on this house too.

However, days before the build was due to start, one of the organisations providing trade professionals went into liquidation, leaving Matthew without a construction team.

Rather than down tools, he used it as an opportunity to set up his own venture called Self Build Heroes, which would give veterans work as building professionals on self-build projects. Matthew said:

“Veterans are great at getting on with the job, being motivated, they’re used to be being accountable for their decisions and they tend to be quick at picking up new knowledge and skills.

"This combination is helping veterans find work, whilst providing an excellent standard of service in construction and helping to plug the ongoing skills gap.”

Developing Second Careers For Veterans

Although still a young venture, Self Build Heroes is investing in its veterans by training provided by the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB).

With training in NVQs ranging from property maintenance, site joinery and site management to plant driving and bricklaying, Matthew is giving service leavers a real and lasting boost to their new careers.

Matthew’s refreshing management style ensures that there is no shame in admitting to failures; he coaches his team to explore why mistakes happen and uses them as opportunities to develop skills. 

Inspired by his time in the RAF, he said:

“In aviation you’re expected to be open and honest about any mistakes you make. There can’t be any risk of it happening again, so by reporting your errors, everyone learns quickly and prevents the same issue arising again.”

Never short of ambition, Matthew is hoping that Self Build Heroes can help to “revolutionise the construction industry” by plugging some of the ongoing skills gaps while offering a new career pathway for veterans.

This story is part of 'Life After Service' - a week-long campaign of positive stories about ex-servicemen and women which will be running every day across all the BFBS media channels.