Family affair became £50m charity
- 12 June 2010
- From the section UK
Former soldier Bryn Parry and his wife Emma have been appointed OBEs for voluntary service to the armed forces, through their charity Help for Heroes.
What started as a bicycle ride to raise £10,000 for wounded soldiers, sailors and airmen has become a full-time job and labour of love for the couple.
In less than three years, their charity has funded support for injured service personnel to the tune of £50m and commanded the backing of royalty.
Mr Parry, 53, described the appointments as a "great honour", although he admitted to being embarrassed when he first found out.
"It's very awkward when you consider all the things that other people have been doing," he said.
"Help for Heroes would not exist without the hundreds of thousands of other people who have actually done something."
Still, their drive and vision has focused the efforts of their army of fundraisers.
Mrs Parry, 50, is a soldier's daughter. Her husband comes from a long line of soldiers and served for 10 years in the Royal Green Jackets. Both understood the sacrifices made by members of the forces.
They set up the charity in October 2007, inspired by a visit to see wounded military patients at Birmingham's Selly Oak Hospital.
After speaking to then head of the Army, Gen Sir Richard Dannatt, they revised their modest target to a staggering £8m to build a swimming pool at the Headley Court military rehabilitation centre in Surrey.
Mr Parry said he and his wife had a feeling that the charity would tap into pent-up public sentiment in support of British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"There was that feeling back in 2007 that something should be done and it just happened that Emma and I somehow articulated that feeling that everyone had," he said.
They encouraged 300 people from all walks of life to join them on a 350-mile sponsored cycle through France and raised £1.4m.
Within eight months, it had reached its target. The donations have not stopped and the total raised has reached £54m.
"I always felt there was a lot of support dammed up. The problem was, people were concerned about the politics and the rights and wrongs of the wars," Mr Parry said.
"We said it's not about the rights and wrongs of war, it's about a 22-year-old boy who's had his legs blown off.
"That allowed people to get behind the movement. It's just been a humanitarian desire to do something, and not stand around and feel helpless."
The couple had the business acumen to make the charity work. Mr Parry had left the Army to become a cartoonist in 1985 and the couple ran an illustrations company for 23 years.
Members of the Royal Family have been strong supporters of Help for Heroes, with Prince William attending the launch of the new facilities at Headley Court last week.
Mr Parry said the charity's recognition through the honours system was indicative of the national mood.
"This is the country acknowledging that young men and women are out there fighting for us. They need to be supported."
The Parry's son, Tom, is an officer with 2nd Battalion the Rifles, who spent a tour in Sangin in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, last year.
The couple's daughters, Sophie and Louisa, have joined in with fund-raising activities and took part in a family expedition to climb Mount Kilimanjaro shortly after Tom's return.
Mr Parry recalled how raising money for Help for Heroes helped to distract him from worrying about his son while he was serving in Afghanistan last summer.
"You spend the whole day dreading somebody walking up and knocking on the door," he said.
"There are thousands of parents, grandparents, girlfriends and wives who feel the same."