If you are a fan of Channel 4’s ‘Grand Designs’ then you may have seen the episode a few weeks ago that featured Jon White and his wife Becky. If you didn’t see it, let me fill you in. A former captain in the royal marines, Jon had the misfortune to step on an IED whilst on patrol in Afghanistan back in 2010. He survived the blast and returned home having lost both legs and his right arm. When I spoke with him, he explained why designing and building his own home was such an important part of the recovery process.
How it all started
On his return from Afghanistan, Jon had to adapt to a whole new life he hadn’t expected. His injuries forced him to retire from the marines 10 years earlier than planned and of course he had to learn to function with his new prosthetic limbs.
His cottage which had served his needs perfectly up until then proved to be poorly suited for this, and his mobility in his own home was at times awkward. His girlfriend (now wife) Becky’s house also didn’t quite fit the bill and the homes they saw for sale were mostly disappointing. To Jon it was obvious what to do next; they ought to design and build their own home.
It was whilst they were in the early stages of planning this enormous task that a friend suggested they appear on ‘Grand Designs’.
Building on set
Jon oversaw the project very closely and was on site on a day to day basis. His military training in logistics and people management proved useful in this endeavour. He also helped out with the manual work as much as he could and worked long hours with the rest of the team.
“At times it was pretty hard” he says, and understandably so. As well as having the responsibility of the project and dealing with all the little problems that arose, Jon had to adapt his schedule for the Channel 4 cameras. “Filming days were quite long” he admits, but none the less he enjoyed the experience and had only nice things to say about the program’s host, Kevin McCloud, “he was very friendly and supportive. He’s also quite good fun”.
What of the house?
The house itself was not so much built with adaptations but rather “the whole concept designed out obstacles”. Kevin McCloud described it well, saying of the house that “it had all cleverly and subtly been made to measure”. One thing that the house comprises however, that you wouldn’t normally find in someone’s home, is a lift that allows Jon to access the different levels of the house more freely. He can of course use the stairs as well, and they have been designed to make it easier for Jon to go up and down them with his prosthetic limbs. The staircase is wide with deep steps and shallow rises, thus making it both practical and aesthetically pleasing.
Other little discreet adaptations that were included were wide open doorways and a garage that was built wide and with direct access to the house. Jon is adamant the garage is a key component of the house’s helpful little touches… or at least it will be when it is cleared. In fairness, moving into a new home takes time.
“So how’s your new home working out then?” I ask. The cheery reply is almost instant, “we’re settled in and enjoying living in it” says Jon. “Being independent is what it’s all about” he explains, and both the construction of the house and the final result have played an important part in the healing process.
Even after filming ended the fun wasn’t over, as only a couple of weeks after the episode aired Jon and Becky were invited to ‘Grand Designs Live’ where they were interviewed on stage by Kevin McCloud before a large audience which Jon describes as being “good fun”. He adds “everyone had seen the episode and we felt like celebrities for the day”.
Since the episode aired, Becky and Jon have received a fair bit of attention which they found very touching. “The response has been very good. We’ve received lots of good will messages”.
Kevin McCloud concluded his narration of the episode by saying of Jon that building the house “helped heal him” and “enabled him”. This is something Jon agrees with fully and feels the whole project was a major part of his rehabilitation, allowing him to use some of the training he already had from the marines whilst “learning a whole new set of skills and experiences to help along the way”. Jon hopes the program will help inspire others and show them what can be done in the face of adversity, and he concludes “it’s about making your dreams come true”.
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