Independence after injury: meet the Navy veteran that turned his hobby into a business - X-Forces Enterprise
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Independence after injury: meet the Navy veteran that turned his hobby into a business

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Russ Kirby’s left arm was paralysed in a motorbike accident in 1981, which forced him to leave the Royal Navy.  Now 58, after 33 years in employment, Russ has achieved his goal of turning his hobby into a business, mounting everything from wedding shoes and football shirts to medals and military memorabilia.


Russ joined the Royal Navy in November 1977.  He said:

“It was the only career I wanted to have.  I felt the need to do something and go places. My best memories are the close friends I made; people from all walks of life but a common interest in serving their country.”


After leaving the Forces, the dad-of-four went on to work in the animal feed industry but a period of work-related stress led him to seek a new profession. Russ explained:

“When I had to leave work after 33 years in the same industry, it was a very difficult time financially. I started a courier round but I was only doing one day a week. Once the Poppy Factory took on my case and I undertook a business course run by LifeWorks, I was encouraged to turn my hobby and passion into a business and from there I was referred to the many organisations that have helped me, including Help for Heroes and X-Forces.”




Russ’s passion for presentation began when he decided to create a table plan for his daughter’s wedding, and he developed this further when he reconnected with former shipmates at a Royal Navy reunion. Russ added:

“I started communicating again with people who I hadn’t seen for 30 years. They saw what I could do and the business really started to take off.

“My business is called ‘Russmountsstuff‘ and, as the name suggests, I mount ‘stuff’ into frames. Anything from a photograph or certificate to signed sports shirts and I’ve even done uniform jackets. I have mounted and framed 35 of the Tower of London Poppies so far as well as lots of sets of medals, both military and sports.  The history of some of these items is mind-boggling. It’s great to think that, thanks to my mountings, people can enjoy looking at their treasures for years to come.”




Russ attended the Help for Heroes Business Experience course, a bespoke scheme run by X-Forces Enterprise (XFE) that has helped more than 200 Wounded Injured and Sick servicemen and women in 33 cohorts over the last three years.  The 6-day programme covers the key parts of how to set up and sustain a profitable business, including marketing, cash flow and budgeting.

“I faced many obstacles while setting up Russmountsstuff; I had no idea how to go about starting a business. After the X-Forces course, I am in a much better place to avoid problems and make my business grow.

“X-Forces has, over the 6 day business course, pointed out the many potential pitfalls, given me sound advice on moving forward and helped me to gain confidence in myself and my business. The other course attendees also helped, as listening to them and their diverse business journeys put things into perspective for me.

“The main challenges I find are in getting to know and access my new markets. Even when busy doing my work, I have to make time to post on social media to keep my name out there. I also still find it difficult to believe in myself enough to push for bigger and better sometimes. I keep getting told how high quality my work is, but I find it hard to accept sometimes, with a lack of self confidence.”




Russ runs his business from his home in Barton Upon Humber, North Lincolnshire, and uses his website to direct customers to his services, prices and photos of previous commissions.

“The best part of running my own business is the independence. Working when it suits me and not being answerable to anyone. Being my own business, I feel real pride in what I do and a passion for my craft.

“It is lovely that my family are involved too. My daughter Alice, who is a seamstress (trading as ‘Sew Alice’), helps me in the business once in a while and my eldest son and his wife built and maintain my website. Plus my youngest son helps on the photography side, even letting me mount and frame some of his work.”




When asked what advice he would share with others considering self-employment, Russ shared the key learnings from his journey:

“I would tell others to research and do their homework before attempting to start out. Make sure you can see a good future before investing too much time and money. Talk to organisations who want to, and can, help. Be clear on your goals and don’t be afraid to admit if it is not working for you.

“On the 18th August 2019 ‘Russmountsstuff‘ celebrated its first birthday.  This feels a great achievement and, I may have a way to go yet, but I know I am on the right track with amazing support around me.”


XFE Chairman, Martin Wing, commented on Russ’s journey into business:

“I had the pleasure of delivering the Help for Heroes course, on which Russ was enrolled.  These programmes are inspiring every time, we see incredible people taking huge steps to overcome injury to build a new future.

“This is another example of the power of the veteran community working together.  Russ has been encouraged and supported to follow his passion and change his working life.  With support his creativity has been able to blossom into a viable business, a path that he wouldn’t have imagined he’d be taking ten years ago.  It gives us great pride to see Russ succeed and find fulfilment; this is precisely why we do what we do.”


May 2021

How is your business going now, Russ?

We are still in Barton, North Lincs and it is incredible how my local business is thriving. Word of mouth is really working for me! The lockdown has also boosted my business as people started clearing out attics, cupboards & garages etc. Coming across old keepsakes and asking me to help present and preserve them.

We are getting involved in local groups and events, so my name is getting out there more and more. My self confidence is building. The more finished pieces I show, the more comments and quote requests come in.

How valuable have you found XFE’s support?

The courses, staff, and information from X-Forces Enterprise has been invaluable and I still draw on what I’ve learnt today. Possibly not in a conventional business way – but then my small business is not conventional in any way shape or form! I am still learning though; learning to keep striving, keep getting involved and keeping a good work / life balance.

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Inspired by this story?

X-Forces Enterprise (XFE) is an award-winning Community Interest Company that nurtures entrepreneurial ambition in the UK military community, official delivery partner to the government’s Start Up Loans Company and MoD’s Career Transition Partnership.  XFE supports Service leavers, veterans, spouses, cadets and Armed Forces family members to start their own businesses with a full package of training, finance, networking and mentoring.  Start your journey by registering today here.


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