Battling back - changing the lives of our wounded

Your poppy helps turn around the lives of wounded and injured soldiers, sailors and airmen through the active recovery programme at our Battle Back Centre in Lilleshall.

Since opening its doors in October 2011, the Battle Back Centre has helped more than 2,000 Service men and women needing rehabilitation from injury or illness.

We recently spent a day with a group taking part in this innovative approach to see how the Poppy Appeal helps those who need it most.

CHANGING PERSPECTIVE

Adam Gough, 21, fractured his pelvis and developed a tumour on his thigh bone after he fell off a balance beam on the obstacle course during his basic training. He's now being discharged from the Army.

Adam is one of several participants taking part in the Battle Back Centre’s five-day multi-activity course. On their second day, the group has been brought to an indoor climbing facility in the West Midlands.

At first he was reluctant to take part in the climbing because of his injury, but by the end of the day Adam's taking on the hardest route. “Pushing up is quite difficult because of my injury but the motivation just takes hold of you.”

“Now I’ve got the motivation to get up to the top and I sort of forgot that I was injured for a bit.” Adam Gough

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A WEEK MAKES

The coaches can see a great change in people during the rock climbing exercises.

“It’s an activity where people can pitch themselves at a fairly low level, just to gain some confidence in being here – particularly if they haven’t climbed before or have done very little climbing,” explains the Battle Back Centre’s Operations Manager, Chris Joynson.

“Gradually, with the help of our coaches, they are able to undertake more challenging routes. People who came here thinking they couldn’t climb a 40ft rock face leave here having done it 10 times. That is good for them – they’re leaving with a sense of achievement and, more importantly, have done it themselves through their own motivation.”

Chris has been at the centre since it opened and is looking forward to the scheme entering its fifth year.

“We’re solely funded by the Legion, who pledged £27 million to the Battle Back Centre over 10 years. The coaches come from Leeds Beckett University, selected because of their personal qualities as well as for their adventure training or sports qualifications.”

LYNDON’S BATTLE BACK JOURNEY

One of the coaches helping out is Lyndon Chatting-Walters, who himself went through the scheme back in 2012 before returning as a member of staff six months ago.

“I was quite severely wounded in Afghanistan, where I broke my back in four places,” he says. “The doctors in the military were careful with what I could and couldn’t do. I’d been told for so long that I wasn’t able to do something that I believed it. This led me to struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and I was in a really bad place.”

Going on the Battle Back course changed everything for him.

(left to right) The Officer Commanding Battle Back, Major Richie Groves, Royal Army Physical Training Corps, Michaela Barwick, the Leeds Beckett University programme manager and Lyndon Chatting-Walters, one of the coaches at Battle Back.

“I came on one of the pilot courses and it sparked a love of climbing for me. I had never climbed properly before I came here and I realised that, despite my back, I could still do it. I decided then and there that it was something I wanted to do for a living.”

“I’d been told for so long that I wasn't able to do something that I believed it.”

After completing the five-day course, Lyndon went away and gained relevant qualifications, returning to the Battle Back Centre to help out on their climbing activities.

As soon as he was discharged by the Army in February 2015, he went straight into working in the outdoor industry as a climbing and mountaineering instructor.

That was when he decided he wanted to help people who were in the same position as he'd once been himself.

“I got really lucky and they asked me to come back as a coach here. It’s awesome and hugely rewarding to be able to support people who are wounded, injured or sick.”

Lyndon Chatting-Walters (right) is now a qualified climbing and mountaineering instructor, and helps out at the Battle Back’s climbing activities.

WHO DOES BATTLE BACK HELP?

A lot of those who come to do the course are like Lyndon was when he arrived – suffering either from a physical injury, mental health issues, or both.

“Some of them have been at home for a very long time. They’re angry and they’ve got a lot of stuff going on in their world,” says Ceri Williams, Course Director. “The Battle Back Centre is a place they’re able to come to, press pause on their life, and maybe start to look at their future life from a different perspective.”

Participants on the Battle Back Course encourage each other to attempt (and succeed at) physical feats they didn’t think they were capable of, to take on challenges and push themselves as part of their recovery.

That's the great thing about the work of the Battle Back Centre – it is a lot more than just a multi-activity course.

At the start of each day the participants are given something to focus on before they go off to do their activities – such as rock climbing, canoeing or wheelchair basketball.

Then, after their day out, the group are brought back together again to discuss the day’s events and any feelings that have sprung from them.

“Some of them have been at home for a very long time. They’re angry and they've got a lot of stuff going on in their world.”

“For me, in addition to the sports, it’s also about the interaction with everybody else on the course,” says another Course Director, Richard Lake-Bullen. “We plant seeds here – helping these people to instigate a change in their lives by giving them a gentle push in the right direction.”

Richard also believes that those taking part get as much out of talking to each other during the week as they do talking to their coaches. And this is clear to see on our visit, where the group are split up into pairs. After a few hours, people who were just a bunch of strangers are now willing each other up ascents that previously may not have seemed possible.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

“These aren’t the same people who turned up yesterday morning,” says Richard. “When they arrived, they were openly saying, ‘I don’t want to be here’. Now, they’ve had some of that negativity taken away, and they can start to focus on some goals. That change could be as simple as getting up in the morning and going for a walk, but for someone who’s suffering from PTSD, that is a massive step on the path to recovery.”

More than 2,000 wounded, injured and sick Service personnel have benefitted from attending the course, and people like Lyndon Chatting-Walters show that it really does work, that the Legion - and your poppy - is doing its bit to help those in our Armed Forces who are wounded, injured or sick.

“I’m being medically discharged from the Army but this has really helped me,” concludes Adam. “My hands are sore now but it’s nice to be around like-minded people who also know what you’re feeling and what you’re going through.

“I’m glad that I’ve come here, as Battle Back has been really good.”

I'm glad I've come here as Battle Back has been really good." Adam Gough

One week at a time

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