In 2019, Hampshire Cultural Trust embarked on a partnership with the UK’s leading charity for veterans’ mental health, Combat Stress, to deliver creative wellbeing workshops at Aldershot Military Museum.
The project is aimed at veterans who have received clinical treatment for PTSD, offering a safe, non-clinical, community space for continued recovery, once discharged. Participants are encouraged to share their military experience, taking the focus away from mental health problems and offering a place for reflection and making sense of experiences.
During the workshops, the veterans are able to handle objects from the museum’s collection. This includes everything from military medals, to part of an aircraft propeller thought to be from local hero and pilot Samuel Cody’s plane. The object handling is used as a basis to explore memories, experiences and hopes for recovery. As well discussion, the veterans are given time and guidance for creative responses, as a way of contributing to their own mental wellbeing. The responses include everything from artwork, poetry and even model-making.
Following the coronavirus outbreak, the team have moved the programme online via Zoom. Working with the same group who visited the museum regularly before lockdown, as well as welcoming new referrals, the sessions continue to make use of the collection, allow time for creative responses and end with a relaxation exercise. The project will continue online until January 2021, generously funded by the MOD Covenant Fund Forces Communities Together Programme.
Feedback from the participants has focused on the development of friendships and enjoyment of exploring a creative side. One veteran, who took part online from the start, explained the impact the sessions had on his wellbeing:
“I was hoping to gain some therapeutic value from creative artistic activities, but I was not expecting any meaningful social contact through the video link. In practice, I found that I was enjoying the social aspects of experience, and I found myself looking forward to the weekly meetings with my friends.”