A Royal Marine who was no stranger to putting his life on the line has saved it by swapping the sound of battle for clatter of pots and pans.
Former commando gunner Kenneth Richards has been appointed the new head chef at the Town House community hub on Burlington Street in Ashton and starts work on Tuesday (7 September).
Arriving at his new posting has been quite a journey for Kenneth, who openly admits he became so isolated during the pandemic and its associated lockdowns that he was seriously considering suicide. Fortunately, an NHS adviser encouraged him to speak to the Veterans Food Co and since then his life has regained purpose.
Kenneth explained: “I was visiting my family in Rochdale when the pandemic started and couldn’t get back to Scotland where I had lived for 30 years. After so long away, I didn't have any friends in the area and began to feel very low and got into a rut.
“I spent 10 years in the forces, served with all three Royal Marine commandos, and did six tours of Northern Ireland. I was an elite soldier who had been under fire, yet I felt there was nothing left for me. I was full of despair and didn’t want to go on.
“However, when I left the forces I had trained as a chef. A brilliant lady from the NHS told me about Noel Goulding from the Veterans Food Co (VFC) and said I should go and see him. As soon as I walked up the stairs at the Strand Community Centre in Rochdale I could smell the cooking and hear the laughter that had been missing from my life for so long.
“Noel gave me a warm welcome. He listened to what I had to say and didn't judge me. He told me the VFC is all about veterans helping veterans and said he could use my skills.
“On my first day in the kitchen, there was a new chef’s uniform waiting for me with a handwritten note attached on Veterans Food Co notepaper saying ‘This uniform is for Chef Kenneth Richards’. I can't tell you how that made me feel.
“My confidence is returning. I feel like I have a purpose, a role in life, and considering the attention to detail it’s just like being back in the forces.
“I now have structure, a clear plan, friends and pride in myself. I’m a chef back doing what I'm good at. The Veterans Food Co saved my life.”
Cllr Ged Cooney, Tameside Council’s executive member with responsibility for the Armed Forces Covenant, said: “I met Kenneth recently on a visit to the Town house and I was extremely impressed not only by his story, but more importantly by his organisational skills in the kitchen.
“Kenneth is doing a first-class job with the Town House residents in helping them to take care of themselves as they move on. He’s a very approachable and friendly man and I wish him all the very best on his new job which he thoroughly deserves.”