From being classed as homeless to fitness trainer

Jel Bearder knew he was in trouble when he ended up classed as homeless. Here’s how The Royal British Legion helped him find a job as a fitness trainer.

“Come on, let’s see if you can use those powder puff muscles!” shouts Jel as the teams of sweaty men and women arm wrestle each other on the ground.

As the early morning commuters head to the office across Shoreditch Park, fitness enthusiasts wearing red, green and blue bibs are dashing up and down paths, weaving their way round dog walkers and cyclists.

Jel Bearder started a new career thanks to help from the Legion.

Credit: Alison Baskerville/Royal British Legion

Jel, a former member of 3 Royal Horse Artillery, in black Army boots, is in hot pursuit, using his military humour at every opportunity.

Classed as homeless

After leaving his regiment in 1991, Jel became the main carer for his wife, who was suffering with anxiety and depression. For 18 years he was unable to take on full-time employment and caring for his two young sons and his wife took its toll.

A young Jel shows off his muscles for the camera. Credit: Alison Baskerville/Royal British Legion

“It was a very difficult time. I could never really hold down a proper job. Eventually the marriage broke down.”

In 2008 Jel filed for divorce and left the family home.

“I was staying on my mates couch. It wasn’t until I was classed as homeless that I realised I was in a bad situation.”

“It turned my life around”

Jel realized that he needed a new career, so he started considering his options.

He had been a keen sportsman during his time in the Army, representing his regiment at football, rugby, tennis, cricket, and athletics. So when a friend suggested BMF (British Military Fitness) he became excited about the possibility.

“I’ve always been into my sport and played for a lot of different teams in the army. I’ve enjoyed fitness since I was kid”

However, his lack of qualifications shut the door on this idea. He would need to pass an NVQ course before he could be considered as a BMF trainer. He was only getting occasional work in the construction industry at the time and the course fees were beyond his reach.

Credit: Alison Baskerville/Royal British Legion

But Jel didn’t give up. After a near miss when scaffolding collapsed on him and his work mates, he decided to push harder to get his BMF qualifications.

“I went to the Legion and they gave me the funds to do my courses. It was one of the best things that could have happened. It’s turned my life around.”

“There is someone out there to help you”

Jel has been working with BMF for the past eight years and knows most of his clients by name.

“British Military Fitness is basically ex-military guys who deliver training to people who want to be trained in a similar way to the army.

“I like having the banter and the fun of delivering a workout to people of all abilities.

“We often go for coffee after a session. I get to know more about them and also meet new people all the time.”

Credit: Alison Baskerville/Royal British Legion

Jel now manages and trains in four parks across London.

“I was born and raised in Enfield so it’s great to still be in London.

“I get to see my son once a week and I know he’s proud of what I’m doing.”

Credit: Alison Baskerville/Royal British Legion

When not rolling around in the park with his BMF crew he can be found chasing his dog, Caldey, around Finsbury Park.

Credit: Alison Baskerville/Royal British Legion

He also helps out with charities and has recently returned from helping to re-build a school in Nepal.

“I never did any charity work before I started my connection with the Legion. I now feel I want to give something back in return for the help I’ve had.

“Whatever you think, there is someone out there to help you. You just have to ask.”

Credit: Alison Baskerville/Royal British Legion

Images and words by Alison Baskerville.

Help support the Armed Forces community

The Legion provides support for thousands of people a year, whether they’re a veteran like Jel or currently serving.

Help us continue to providing the support that people need.

Related Stories