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An amazing Shrewsbury - Gloucester Canoe Challenge!
22 Jun 2021
by Cathy Block

Lee and Natalie met and found love at the Shrewsbury Ark after Lee had a short spell of sleeping rough. The homeless charity has helped them to forge a new life together and now they're looking to give back.

The couple are embarking on a canoe adventure this September from Shrewsbury to Gloucester along the River Severn to raise money for the Shrewsbury Ark Homeless Charity and Salute, a local counselling service specialising in helping people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Both charities are very close to Lee’s heart.

Lee is an Army veteran who fought from 1994 to 2007 in various conflicts around the world – he was in Bosnia providing humanitarian aid with United Nations and was also in Iraq and Afghanistan. These conflicts have affected his mental health ever since. Unfortunately, after returning home to his wife in 2007, his relationship broke down because he was suffering from unacknowledged PTSD, depression and anxiety. This led to him starting to self-medicate using drugs and alcohol to “forget” and numb the pain of his trauma.

Despite this, in 2011, Lee completed a similar canoe challenge to raise money for Air Ambulance which raised around £6000 and gave him a much-needed boost to his mental resilience. However, he was still struggling with his undiagnosed PTSD and he first made contact with the Ark in 2014 when he went through a short spell of rough sleeping prior to meeting Natalie. Together they have made a strong team, but life is hard, and further spells of homelessness followed.

Lee returned to the Ark in 2020, where he has access to weekly counselling sessions with Salute. He was also offered temporary accommodation which acted as a stepping stone for him and Natalie to be offered a flat. They moved in together in October 2020, have settled in really well and are successfully managing their tenancy. They now have a car and Lee picks up the odd bit of work when he can. They also have a dog called Titch, who is given free veterinary care through the Ark’s StreetVet Partnership.

Lee says the Ark has given him and Natalie the confidence to get back on their feet adding, “Everything we have achieved is thanks to the Ark - we  have decided to do this challenge to repay some of the kindness and practical help that the Ark has given us."

Shrewsbury Canoe Hire is providing the canoe and overseeing the event and the pair will be supported by Shropshire Search and Rescue, and the Armed Forces Outreach Team. Lee adds: "Their generosity has made this fundraising event possible."

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