AN army veteran and his friend who spent years sleeping rough in woods in Devizes have just moved into a modern home thanks to support from charities and Wiltshire Council.

Richard, 47, and Emma, 43, who supported each other as friends through many dark days after they both suffered traumatic experiences and turned to drugs can now hardly believe their luck.

Emma, who grew up in Enford near Pewsey and has five grown up children, said: “I keep thinking it is a dream and I am going to wake up.”

Richard said: “It is like all of our Christmasses and birthdays have come at once.” Richard who grew up in the Devizes area and is a former pupil o f Lavington School joined the Duke of Edinburgh Regiments as a teenager.

But after a prolonged assault unconnected with his job he left the army and spent years blocking out the memory of the attack.

The friends had begun to turn their lives around 18 months ago after getting help from Opendoors and Centrepoint to stop taking heroin and they are now clean.

At the height of their addiction they spent up to £100 each a day on drugs. The pair partly owe their change of fortune to new help given to homeless people because of the coronavirus emergency.

They were first put into a shared house in Salisbury but were then offered a modern house just yards from where they used to sleep in Belverdere Woods.

Emma said: “Opendoors was a saviour for us. They helped with everything from paperwork to counselling. If we hadn’t had a place to go like we wouldn’t be where we are now. They are an amazing organisation.”

John Saunders from Opendoors said: “It would be hard to find a better example of successful working together.

“Several members of the public, Wiltshire Council, Devizes Opendoors, Kennet Furniture Recycling and the British Legion have all played a part in helping ex-army Richard and friend Emma make a fresh start in their lives.

“Last week the day finally arrived when they could move into a place they could call home. After years of sleeping rough in and around Devizes Richard and Emma were given the keys to a house in town.”

Daniel Thompson from KFR said: “We were able to supply £350.00 of white goods from our Crisis Provision Project. Once the white goods had been arranged Richard came and chose items of furniture. Sofas, beds, wardrobes and a whole host of other affordable household furniture we’re chosen and paid for by the British legion via Opendoors.”

Wiltshire councillor Richard Clewer said: “It is fantastic to see Richard and his partner are now housed into permanent accommodation, where they will receive ongoing support from our new tenancy sustainment officer. They will also receive support from our partners at Open Doors.

“Our rough sleeper outreach team has supported 31 people into permanent accommodation during the COVID-19 pandemic, and 28 of these are still in temporary accommodation.

“The team helps people to access housing, Universal Credit, and substance misuse support while they are temporarily housed.

“Our aim is to deliver on the government’s commitment that no one should return to the streets after the pandemic, and the rough sleeper outreach team will be working hard to find long-term accommodation for those people currently in temporary housing.”

Angie Carpenter the deputy co-ordinator of Opendoors said: “I have watched Richard with great concern and interest over quite a few years, both himself and Emma have been regular guests at Devizes Opendoors, which has session three times per week, they needed the basic human essentials more than most (food, drink, clean clothes, bedding and a shower) but more than anything to be listened to.

“He is a lovely complex character who has been through an awful lot. Their route from being entrenched rough sleepers to being placed in a hotel then temporary accommodation before finally gaining their own tenancy.

“It has not been an easy one whatsoever they have alternated between frustration, hope and despair regarding their homeless situation but with the unconditional support, advice and guidance of the Rough Sleepers Initiative, ourselves at Opendoors, the housing options team at WCC and lately the RBL and Daniel Thompson at KFR, we all worked well together, many phone calls, appointments, visits, encouragement, filling out of numerous forms, emails, consoling conversations and then thankfully congratulatory conversations were had.

“ I am so proud of both of them for their strength, resilience and also humour in the darkest days. The sun always shines in the end.”