Veterans rebuilding mental health in Bristol allotments

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Jeremy Glover
Image caption,
Jeremy Glover resigned from the Army after his experiences caught up with him

Veterans have praised an NHS project allowing them to work in an allotment to help rebuild their mental health.

Operation Courage is a programme that encourages serving personnel, reservists, veterans and their families to share their experiences.

As part of the project, an overgrown plot in Brislington has been transformed into a site flourishing with salad, vegetables and wildlife.

Veteran Jeremy Glover said it had stopped him "running away from trauma".

Mr Glover takes a 65-mile round trip to attend the group that meets one lunchtime per week at Talbot Road Allotments to talk and support each other.

Image caption,
The project aims to encourage more veterans to seek help

He joined the Army when he was 17-years-old and served in Iraq, surviving numerous gas attacks.

He said since then he had spent time "walking away from trauma, running away from trauma and/or isolating myself".

"When you can't do that any more, it ends up that you've got no choice but to sit at home, practise the thousand-yard stare and either drink or smoke yourself into a pit, and I'm not doing any of that now."

"Just sometimes talking about your troubles is better than anything else," added Ben Reed, who offers peer support for the project.

Mr Reed said the "problem" with many veterans was they isolated themselves by staying at home "24 hours-a-day".

The project gives them the opportunity to "get out in the air with other veterans to talk", he added.

Image caption,
Joanne Lawson said the project "can be amazing"

Joanne Lawson, an occupational therapist of 30 years, runs the allotment sessions and said their focus was how to make veterans' "every day" easier.

"People will come or I will go and see people at home and they're very self contained. They're very insular," she explained.

Ms Lawson said often the veterans were unable to think about anybody else, apart from themselves.

"Even if they're living within a family, they'll often say 'I'm really, really alone'."

Image caption,
The allotments offer veterans a project to focus on and become passionate about

Many veterans have already received more traditional help, including medication, cognitive behaviour therapies and counselling.

Ms Lawson said the allotments offered them a safe place to escape their past.

"And when they come through, up (their) courage and start getting the support that they need, we start making links in the community and their lives are transformed."

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