Chris Joynson knows all there is to know about the Battle Back centre, having helped set it up over seven years ago. Chris served for over 36 years in the Army and his last role was running a Personnel Recovery Unit in the West Midlands, so he was ideally suited to run the Battle Back centre for The Royal British Legion.
“The genus of the Battle Back Centre goes back to between 2008 and 2010, when we were receiving a lot of casualties back from two back- to- back large scale operations in Iraq and Afghanistan,” says Chris.
A group attend a course at the Battle Back Centre.
“There was a perceived need to do more for our wounded, injured, and sick than we’ve done in the past. The Ministry of Defence approached the Legion for assistance and our part in that process in assisting the Defence Recovery Program was to set up and run the Battle Back centre as well as provide money to support the running of a number of Personnel Recovery Centres over a ten year planned programme.
“It was officially opened in 2012 and since then we’ve been running courses for wounded, injured, and sick (WIS) service men and women from all three services on a pretty constant basis.”
Who does the Battle Back centre help?
When someone is injured during Service, they’re given an Individual Recovery Program (IRP). This outlines their recovery and it can be very long or quite short depending on the severity of their injury or illness.
“Anyone who is assigned as long-term sick and assigned as WIS will do a number of courses and interventions,” says Chris. “One of the first that they do is the multi-activity course that we run from here.”
This isn’t by coincidence. The courses at the Battle Back centre are specifically aimed at people starting their recovery plan.
The recovery process normally starts post clinical care and rehabilitation. The length of the recovery process varies according to individual circumstances and for some it can be a long process. The Battle Back centre coaching staff can often face issues with motivation, communication or isolation, with people being unwilling to attend or participate, and generally being non-communicative.
“It was a light at the end of the tunnel. Not instantly, but something was there, something to say you might get better.”Ted Youd, WO1 Royal Lancers
Ted Youd, a Warrant Office in the Royal Lancers, came on his first Battle Back Course after being diagnosed with Q disease.
“I wasn’t right,” says Ted. “I used to just lie in bed and wait for the family to come home and then get up for an hour or two and then go back to bed.
“Sometimes, I couldn’t even stand up to brush my teeth. That was where I really started to spiral downhill.
“I couldn’t even stand up for nine months, I didn’t even have the motivation to get up to see my family. Then there I was, a gobby WO1 with this group of people who’ve all had similar symptoms and we were doing physical stuff for an hour. It was a light at the end of the tunnel. Not instantly, but something was there, something to say you might get better.”
A coach does a presentation on the intersection between mental health and physical health.
Focused on wellbeing
“What we do at the Battle Back Centre is slightly unique. It’s focused on a certain part of the recovery process and that’s why it’s delivered early,” says Chris.
“We focus on the wellbeing of the individual and their motivation and helping them in that respect, particularly where they’re demotivated or distracted by other conditions.”
“We look at their starting point and work out how we can help people individually."Chris Joynson, Recovery Operations Manager
Since the Battle Back centre opened, it has helped over 5,000 WIS start their recovery plans. Of these around 90% will transition into civilian life, while 10% will go back to military service.
As there is such variety in the challenges each WIS can face, the centre has to be adaptable enough to provide courses for everyone who attends.
“We build our course around a number of adventure training and adaptive sport opportunities,” says Chris.
“So if someone’s arriving with major physical injuries and they’re not able to participate in some of the activities that we do, we have a technical advisor whose job is to make sure that those with really bad physical injuries can complete the courses and activities in the same way as an able-bodied person could.”
“We look at their starting point and work out how we can help those people individually. We have to identify what their particular concern or injury is and develop ways that we can help them.
Dan Sullivan, a former SNCO in the Army.
Dan Sullivan, a former SNCO in the Army, is another who has attended courses at the Battle Back centre.
“I was medically discharged in 2014 because my injuries were so severe that I wasn't able to continue in my role in frontline infantry as a senior NCO within the British Army which still devastates me to this day,” says Dan. “However, with the help of Battle Back I've been able to move forward step by step by step.”
“The one main thing that this place has over other places is the coaching aspect. It far outweighs anything I've ever seen in any sort of recovery facility or anything like that. The coaches here individually specify what’s right for the individual person."
The future for the Battle Back centre?
Since it opened, the issues and challenges that WIS attending Battle Back face has changed.
“When we first opened,” says Chris, “it was in response to casualties coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq. Around 70% of the people on our courses were there as a result of injuries, either mental or physical, that they’d sustained on operations.
“That has fortunately changed in recent years, we’re now more receiving people with mental health conditions, including, but by no means exclusively PTSD and also musculoskeletal type injuries that have been sustained on training or whilst off duty on sporting activities.”
Personnel take part in an exercise at the Battle Back Centre.
The Battle Back centre has also started running trials in courses specifically for veterans.
“Recently we’ve broadened our offer to include the veteran’s community, and we ran a very successful veterans course for the first time this year,” says Chris.
“We gave them the opportunity to engage with like-minded people. That proved very powerful for a lot of people attending the course.
They came from a number of different backgrounds, and some of those backgrounds were not particularly positive. The ages of those attending ranged from 29 to 69, but it did not seem to matter and if anything the different experiences added to the course. A few people had genuine difficulty adjusting to civilian life over a period of ten to 20 years, and we were able to help them. Not just in terms of the course we do, but some people had genuine hardship in life around money, debt, and housing, and we were able to give people face to face engagement with some experts from The Royal British Legion.
“Because I did take that step, that's why I was able to recover.”Dan Sullivan, a former SNCO in the Army
“This place is not a quick fix but it gives you the building blocks to go step by step,” says Dan.
“If you don't take the first step to get better then nothing is going to happen, your life is going to stay the same.
“If I hadn’t come on this course and started learning how to run again and physically get myself back in shape and strong, and started to do things like reflection and meditation, I don’t know what would have happened to be brutally honest.
“A lot of veterans end up destroying themselves, killing themselves or doing something bad to the people around them. Would I have? I don't know.
“However, because I did take that step and that's why I was able to recover - thanks to the Battle Back Centre and the people here.”
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