A former army serviceman who turned his life around after becoming homeless has been recognised with a ‘pride’ award for his tireless fundraising efforts.
Tony Francis of Werrington was chosen as the ‘Pride of M&S’ at the chain’s annual awards ceremony, and the former army reservist will now put his £1,000 winnings towards two new commemorative First World War benches he hopes to see put up in Bridge Street.
CCTV operator Tony said: “I’m still shocked. Going from where I was to how I am now, it’s absolutely amazing.
“I just want to give back and I enjoy doing it.”
Tony spent five years in the Territorial Army after joining aged 18, touring Germany and Canada, then became a police officer. But a conviction for drink driving saw him serve five weeks in prison, and when he came out he was homeless for two years, spending most of the time sofa surfing.
Tony, a dad of four, said: “Luckily, most of the time I had somewhere to get washed and showered.”
But, thanks to the help of the Royal British Legion (RBL) Tony turned his life around and found permanent employment at M&S at the Brotherhood Retail Park.
Since then, he has thrown himself into helping others, spending his time arranging fundraising events for local veterans and their families.
Tony is also instrumental in arranging commemorative events in the city and is currently working on a large ‘veterans’ hub’ project, where veterans and their families can seek face-to-face support.
He also works closely with the Royal Voluntary Service, helping local pensioners with their needs and arranging day trips throughout the year.
Tony said: “It’s unbelievable. Even my own daughter says ‘you’ve just changed so much, you’ve really turned your life around’.”
Next up for Tony is his mission to get the commemorative benches installed to coincide with the 100-year anniversary of the Great War.
The project already has the support of the RBL and M&S, and Tony added: “At this rate it might be installed sooner rather than later. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a while.”