Forces Veterans take to the stage to aid recovery

Thursday 1 June 2017

Stand Easy uses theatre and drama as a means of recovery for wounded, injured and sick military personnel, building communication skills and positive mental health, raising self-confidence, motivation and self-esteem and giving participants more control over their lives and helping them make the transition from serving to civilian life.

Stand Easy - which is supported by Help for Heroes - worked with Veterans First Point Dundee and Fife, Combat Stress, Step Together, and Help for Heroes to recruit participants for the four-week drama project.It has involved seven veterans, including Help for Heroes beneficiaries Jim Kettles and Billy Girdwood, while dozens more veterans contributed their personal experiences to the development of the play via social media. The rehearsal sessions were led by director Alan Cameron and film-maker Sandie Jamieson over three weeks and included one professional actor, and three drama students from the Dundee & Angus College, alongside the veterans.

End Ex: a story of transition focuses on the experience of leaving the forces and the challenges – both positive and negative, humorous and serious – of dealing with civilian life. It opened in Menzieshill Community Centre in Dundee on Friday and is touring throughout Tayside this week.

Help for Heroes contributed £5000 to the project, ABF The Soldiers Charity, Poppy Scotland, The Northwood Trust and Dundee Council. Help for Heroes ambassador Lorraine Kelly is their patron, along with actor Jack Fortune who came up from London just to see the opening night.

Veteran Billy Girdwood, from Friockheim, near Arbroath, took part in Stand Easy’s pilot production last year and enjoyed it so much that he became the charity’s committee secretary. He is also acting in End Ex and has been invited to apply to study drama at Dundee & Angus College as a result.

Billy, 48, who served with the Royal Highland Fusiliers in Iraq, Northern Ireland and Bosnia, has suffered PTSD and chronic depression for more than a decade after leaving the forces. A course with Aberdeenshire-based Horseback UK, also supported by Help for Heroes, built his confidence enough to join Stand Easy.

He said: “Before I had no inclination to do anything but doing this project has really helped me, its been very therapeutic. I have never looked back and it’s given me a new lease of life. I feel very lucky to have this opportunity. It’s great to see it all falling into place after all the preparation.”

Jim Kettles, 48, sought help for his PTSD three years ago and joined the group to meet people and overcome his fear of public speaking. “I used to be very shy and I’d clam up. This has helped bring me out of my shell.”

Gerry McGregor, Help for Heroes Band of Brothers/Sisters Coordinator in Scotland, said: “We are delighted to support Stand Easy and their work in helping veterans in their recovery and transition to civilian life. It is such a moving, powerful performance.”

Following the project, Stand Easy will continue to support participants by arranging meetings, theatre visits and walks or other activities. They are also setting up weekly drama/social sessions, also run by professional drama workers and students.

The play has been performed this week at Monifeth Amateur Drama Club, Douglas Community Centre, Perth Prison Kirkton Community Centre and Charleston Community Centre tomorrow (Saturday May 26). The project is being filmed by Sandie Jamieson, who is also running film-making workshops for the veterans.

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