Cuddling a baby meerkat, yoga, cooking healthy meals, Shiatsu, even tree-hugging were just some of the activities experienced by participants on the newest Help for Heroes course.
Launched at the Charity’s northern Recovery Centre, Phoenix House in Catterick, the five-day Health and Wellbeing course proved such a hit with participants that it is to be rolled out to all Help for Heroes Recovery Centres.
Devised by Kelly Bostock, a member of the Phoenix House Supported Activities team, the course aims to encourage participants to live a healthier life by informing and inspiring them through a number of workshops, outings, treatments and activities.
Kelly said: “We invited the ten wounded, injured and sick veterans to get as much out of the week as they could – it was theirs for the taking – and I think they did just that! All of the Phoenix House staff who helped run the course saw such a change in those who took part.”
Among them was David Hubber, known as H, from Ripon. Injured in 2001 while playing ice-hockey for the army, David put up with increasingly worsening back pain for ten years until he could no longer continue to do his job with the Royal Logistics Corps. He was medically discharged in October 2013 and now, as well his spinal injury, has been diagnosed with a psychological condition that limits his employability in ‘Civvy Street’.
He is a wheelchair user and applied for a place on the course in the hope of receiving tips on how to change his way of life that might also result in him losing weight.
“I learned more about nutrition than I have ever known before and I certainly intend changing my diet and eating habits as a result,” said H.
Evening holistic therapies, delivered by trained volunteers, included various types of massage - Indian Head Massage, Shiatsu, Tui Na and sports.
Julie Hopkin noticed an immediate benefit of the Indian Head Massage. The former Sergeant with the Royal Logistics Corps, based in the military stores, was discharged in 2003 after ten years’ service with what, at the time, was termed ‘adjustment disorder’ but which, two years later, was re-diagnosed as PTSD that then triggered the onset of rheumatoid arthritis.
“The massage was fab,” said the 47-year-old from Hull. “After it, I slept for the first time in a week.”
The highlight of the course for many veterans was a visit to Thorp Perrow Arboretum near Bedale in the Yorkshire Dales where, with curator Faith Douglas as their guide, they were treated to a ‘Forest bath’ – a means of ‘bathing’ in the splendid woodland, learning about many of the species along the footpaths and with even a bit of tree-hugging (around a giant redwood) thrown in.
Faith explained: “It was the Japanese who first realised how therapeutic a walk among trees can be. Inhaling wood oils from certain trees as you go makes you feel calm and boosts your immune system.”
At the end of the trail was a greater surprise for the group. In the falconry and animal section of Thorp Perrow, they were able to hold birds of prey, cuddle a baby meerkat and feed very tame wallabies.
“I found the walk very therapeutic and also enjoyed holding the owl and the baby meerkat,” said Stephen Docherty from Teesside. Stephen joined the Green Howards in 1996, was shot in both legs while in Afghanistan in 2008 and has been in and out of hospital ever since. He also has epilepsy and suffers from mental illness. He was discharged in 2014.
“I came on the course to try to get a better understanding of my mental illness, learn ways to improve my sleep pattern – I get very little sleep – and to generally look after myself. But I got more out of it than that. I found it good to be part of something where I could relate to people with similar problems and my mood picked up as the week went on.”
Any wounded, inured or veterans interested in attending a future Health & Wellbeing course can email Kelly on Kelly.Bostock@helpforheroes.org.uk for more information.