Christmas can be a stressful period at the best of times, but the last festive season was particularly tough for former Lance Corporal Blake Clark and his family after a house fire meant their lives were turned upside down.
Life changed for the Peterborough-based British Army veteran when he received a call from his wife telling him their house had gone up in flames. Although the fire service arrived quickly and no one was hurt, it had a massive impact on their home. He said:
"The fire service got there quite quickly and it was dealt with, but the damage was extreme."
While the building was out of bounds, he had to fit himself, his partner, their three children and four dogs - one of which is his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) support dog in training - between a small studio flat and hotels.
Because of the scale of the fire, his entire house had to be cleared of smoke damage, which meant coating floor to ceiling with special anti-staining paint.
However, it wasn’t straightforward. Because of respiratory conditions that his wife and daughter have, anything fabric, including clothes, bedding and furniture, had to be removed or deep cleaned too. He said:
"When we got rid of everything and we stood in the house and looked around the rooms were empty."
The massive repair task was daunting enough, but with Christmas also fast approaching, there was even more pressure to get the house in a ready state for the family to return. This was a job too large for Blake to tackle alone.
Even though Blake left the forces in 2012 on a PTSD related medical discharge, he was still able to rely on the forces community for support.
He asked military charity 'Help for Heroes' to put out a call to anyone in the local area who could help him out, and the responses quickly came back from people offering their labour, resources and plenty of kind words. He said:
"Just knowing people care enough to just say "we're thinking about you" goes a long way."
Blake says that people giving up their time, tools, and even providing some banter along the way made the job much easier for him and ultimately meant the family were able to return on Christmas Eve. He said:
"There was quite a local guy to me, he was coming a few nights a week after ... doing his full day at work. He'd only been out about a year."
The powerful bond of the over-arching military community meant Blake and his family could rebuild their lives at home. Blake talks about the confidence his bond with the armed forces gives him. He said:
"Because of what I went through I trust very little people.
"I know three people in family, friends and veterans ... that I trust, and all three of them are veterans."
Blake visited the BFBS Colchester studio with his PTSD assistance dog, Odin, to share the story which you can hear in full above.