Army veteran cleans up with new venture
In 2016, a back injury and mental illness cut short Lee’s Army career. Now, with the support of The Soldiers’ Charity, he runs a specialist cleaning company offering services across North Yorkshire and beyond.
Lee joined the Royal Artillery as a young 17-year-old eager to see the world. He was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 and again in 2012, serving a total of eight years and rising to the rank of Lance Bombardier. Lee loved life in the Army, saying: ‘Everyone’s got your back. It’s that brotherhood and sisterhood that you get that makes it special.’
Lee was 24 when things started to unravel. He was lifting a piece of heavy matting over his head when he began to experience back problems. He remembers: “They thought I had arthritis, then curvature of the spine. What with the two bulging disks too, they said my spine looked like I’d been in a car crash.”
For a fit young soldier, the news was devastating. Lee struggled with feelings of worthlessness and developed anxiety and depression. Eventually, he entered the Personal Recovery Unit (PRU) in Catterick and was assigned a Personal Recovery Officer (PRO) who helped to transform his outlook. With a wife and young child at home, Lee knew he needed to plan for their future. He decided to use the skills he’d developed in the Army to start his own carpet-cleaning business.
Lee named his business White Horse Cleaning Services after the Kilburn White Horse carved onto the hillside near Thirsk, North Yorkshire. The Soldiers’ Charity supported Lee with a grant towards his new venture, helping him to attend training courses in Leicester and to purchase specialist cleaning equipment.
After several months, Lee decided to expand his business to offer general cleaning services. He was approached by a friend requesting he carry out cleaning work when she reached the end of a tenancy agreement. Lee was reluctant at first, but finally accepted. The friend was delighted, and soon offers of work began pouring in. After two weeks, he had to take on another member of staff, followed by another.
Lee’s big break came six months later. He was approached by the Director of an international company, who offered him a contract to clean their factory. It was a massive jump for the fledgling business, but Lee’s Army career had taught him to take risks. He signed the contract and was helped with a business expansion loan from X-Forces – a business enterprise charity for the Armed Forces which is supported by The Soldiers’ Charity.
Two years on, Lee’s business is thriving. White Horse Cleaning Services now offers a full suite of domestic cleaning services, including private housekeeping and packages for commercial buildings and factories across North Yorkshire. He employs 28 staff and the business continues to grow. Lee sees his employees as part of the family, with the same brother and sisterhood he remembers from his Army days. This year, he was nominated for a Soldiering On award, which recognises outstanding achievements of people, teams and businesses who work in support of the Armed Forces community. Lee reached the final four of the ‘Business of the Year – Scale Up’ award, competing against businesses with a turnover of £4 million.
Over the next two years, Lee plans to double his team and further expand the business. His commitment to the Armed Forces remains a driving force behind White Horse Cleaning Services. Lee has received a Bronze Award from the Armed Forces Covenant Employer Recognition Scheme, and plans to create a new business to support the military spouse network. He says: “We will launch a new business selling and supporting cleaning franchises through the military spouse network, allowing them to own their own businesses, which works around the challenges of supporting a loved one who is still serving.”
Lee is grateful to The Soldiers’ Charity for its support in his early days. He says: “I don’t think I’d have done it without the support network, without The Soldiers’ Charity.” He is keen to use his experience to give back to support other soldiers, veterans and families. “It’s not all about the taking,” He says. “I like to give back.” Last year, with a mere four days of training behind him, Lee completed the Great North Run for The Soldiers’ Charity. Looking forward, he plans to complete the London Marathon 2020 and continue expanding his cleaning empire.