South Shields Royal Navy veteran tells how charities helped turn his life around

A Royal Navy veteran who overcame tough times has told more of his struggle as he prepares to set off on his round-Britain journey to help others.

Tuesday, 26th October 2021, 11:30 am

Andrew Marshall is setting off with his converted Ford Transit named Roxy on a 5,500-mile journey to raise funds for armed forces charities NAAFI Break and SSAFA.

He served as an Aircraft Engineer, working on Sea King helicopters on front-line squadrons operating off HMS Invincible and the support ship RFA Argus, leaving in 1995 after seven yeas’ regular service and a further three in the Royal Naval Reserve.

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Andrew Marshall and Roxy getting ready for the off.

However, personal battles including anxiety over his business, debt, alcohol dependency, a brush with the law, and the breakdown of his marriage took their toll on Andrew.

“I had all of these red flags and warnings, but I still thought I could turn things around. I was wrong; I had waited far too long to reach out for help,” said Andrew, who is now studying Health and Social Care at the University of Sunderland.

“That point came in 2018, and I reached the lowest point in my life. I had been through years of emotional stress, turmoil and reached a point that I felt the best thing for everyone would be if I was no longer here.

"I was so poorly with my mental health that I tried to take my own life.

Andrew Marshall and Roxy getting ready for the off.

“But I did eventually reach out and contacted an alcohol help service in South Shields.

"Staff there started to help unravel and help me start my recovery. I joined NAAFI Break, a local ex-forces charity really to socialise and give some structure to my week.

"There, I met a lady from SSAFA who helped me with my financial and housing problems.

“SSAFA’s caseworker helped me secure housing as I was losing my home at that time, and also helped with furnishings, carpets, and some initial bills and debts.”

Explaining why he decided to drive the coast of the UK, Andrew said: “When I was ill with my mental health, I developed severe anxiety which affected all aspects of my life, one of the biggest impacts was my ability to drive.

"Over the years, the anxiety became much worse, it seemed as though the distance of where I could drive was becoming smaller and smaller.

"The anxiety became so acute, that eventually I could no longer drive.

"I couldn't even drive to my support meetings which were less than a mile away.

“I faced my challenges and in June 2020, I bought a Ford Transit minibus that I started to convert into a campervan.

"My reasoning was that if I started to panic when I drove anywhere, I could pull over and stay in Roxy until it passed.

“I bought a road atlas with a plan to try and drive further than the South Shields page.

"Little by little, step by step, I have slowly expanded my horizons and have now managed to drive around 19 pages and will soon set off on covering the whole of the UK’s coastline raising money for SSAFA Tyne & Wear and NAAFI Break."

Andrew also revealed why he chose to name his trusty van Roxy.

“When I bought the minibus, it was black and white, and that reminded me of my old Border Collie who was called… you’ve guessed it: Roxy. The name stuck,” he said.

Andrew’s adventure – which he expects to take three-to-four weeks – begins on November 15.

You can also follow Andrew’s adventure on Facebook and Instagram.

To find out more about SSAFA, visit ssafa.org.uk

:: You don’t have to be suicidal to call Samaritans.

Whatever you’re going through, call them free any time from any phone on 116 123 (this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill), email [email protected], or visit www.samaritans.org to find details of your nearest branch