Homeless former soldier sets up new shoe shine business in Norwich
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
For 13 years Darren Glossop could see his reflection in his polished army boots, but after ill-fated fortune he found himself homeless on the streets of Norwich.
Now he is determined to get his life back on track as the city's resident shoe-shiner, making footwear fancy for those who visit him.
His small home-made wooden stall, draped in a Welsh flag, sits on Rampant Horse Street outside Debenhams department store in the city centre, offering a military-standard shoe polishing to passers-by.
And as he sorts his brushes and polish into a small box, a chat with the affable 38 year old, reveals a proud man, determined to lift himself off the streets.
'I'm not the kind of person who can just sit there and hold out my hand out, I have to do something,' said Mr Glossop. 'I guess that's my military background. I want to work hard.'
After serving with the Welsh guards for well over a decade Mr Glossop took up employment with a defence company and was posted out to Afghanistan.
While in the war-torn country, he came under fire, and was hit with shrapnel in his face, eye and leg.
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Jumping into an irrigation ditch to avoid further gunfire, he waited until the attack was over, before seeking medical attention.
'The wound I had to my leg didn't seem too bad at first, but it became infected and affected the bone, I had to go on really strong painkillers. It was a big turning point in my life, I've had trouble with my leg ever since and it was the start of my downfall.'
Family tragedy struck soon after, as Mr Glossop lost his brother, who also served in the armed forces, and then both his parents, who died in the space of a year.
Unable to continue the physical demands of military work, Mr Glossop moved away for a fresh start and found contract work as a welder in Scotland. As the work dried up, he moved around the east coast picking up odd jobs until eventually arriving in Norwich.
'Once I arrived in Norfolk, around the time of all that snow, I couldn't find any work. The small amount of money I had left, soon dried up.'
Without savings, the once proud soldier found himself sleeping on the streets of the city.
It is a situation that Tony Hayes from the veterans association recognises all too well. He said: 'This is a massive problem, thousands of veterans are coming home with physical and mental health problems. It can lead to the loss of relationships and difficulty holding down a job, which in turn often leads to homelessness.'
Despite having very little to his name, Mr Glossop's spirit was not crushed, he said: 'I knew I needed to do something but I had very little money. I found a wood yard in the city and they gifted me some wood and I bought some other bits. I found an old child's buggy in a skip, so used it as a trolley and took everything to the Forum, where I built this stall.'
Mr Hayes was not surprised by the soldier's ingenuity, he said: 'When you serve for your country, you learn to be resourceful and take a pride in your work. I applaud Mr Glossop's efforts to turn his life back around and I hope the people of Norwich can help him to start a new chapter.
'It's just a shame that so many army veterans end up in similar circumstances. If people knew how many homeless people were ex-army they would be staggered.'
Mr Glossop has welcomed fellow Norwich homeless man, Raffael Casaer to his burgeoning business.
A former soldier from Sierra Leone, they met at a soup kitchen in the city and Mr Glossop said they just clicked.
'He's ex-army too, so has the same mentality as me, he wants to work and make a new life. He obviously knows how to polish boots too, so we've called our business Taff and Raff's traditional shoe shine stall.'
Mr Casaer said: 'The options for homeless people in Britain is to go on benefits, but as an ex-soldier that is not something I want to do.
'I was looking for work when I met Darren. We work well together and I hope we can make a good business of this,' he said.
The men have been heartened by the trust locals are putting in them. Mr Glossop said: 'There's been a good reception from the people of Norwich. I think they appreciate the fact that we're making an effort rather than begging. People are leaving their shoes in the morning for us, we polish them up, and they collect them after work, knowing we are going to be here.'
On his hopes for the future, Mr Glossop said: 'Raffael and I have spoken about one day getting a boat to live on, but honestly, I would love a flat again.'