It’s been 6 years since I first picked up a trowel to excavate an Anglo-Saxon cemetery and how far things have come since then. In my former life I was a Royal Marines Commando, a job that I had wanted to do since before I can remember. I enjoyed nothing more than going in the field or deploying on operations, knowing that whatever public opinion was, I was doing my part to ensure the safety and security of other. Several incidents in Afghanistan unfortunately cut my career short after only 17 short years.
During my time as a participant on the ‘Digs’ I could see the positive effects that it was having on my peers digging alongside me, it was also having a positive effect on me and I was keen to see if this could be developed further prompting the development of Breaking Ground Heritage (BGH).
To date, we have facilitated the placement of several hundred veterans and serving personnel on BGH and Op Nightingale projects, both on and off the MOD estates. We have worked closely with Wessex Archaeology to ensure that all archaeology is undertaken to maintain and excel in best practice and we have developed projects with academic institutions including the Universities of Exeter, Cardiff, Dundee and Winchester. We are also working tirelessly to develop and interpret data sets that show the positive effects of these projects with Psychologists who are leaders in their fields.
Physical and psychological injuries are common place amongst members and former members of the Armed Forces; the task we are faced with now is finding a meaningful way to reintegrate those affected by life-altering challenges and limitations back into functional and contributing members of society, not just for economic reasons but for the continued professional and psychological development of the individual.
At Breaking Ground Heritage (BGH) we utilise archaeology and heritage to develop projects that encourage physical and psychological wellbeing, working with participants to build their own recovery pathways, thus empowering them to regain control of their lives and move forward.
BGH also provide support to members of the service community looking to transition into a new career in the heritage sector, providing training, work experience and professional development opportunities. We also provide links into Further/Higher education for those that want a more academic alternative.
A common phrase by participants on projects, relaxing around the camp fire is “that’s the first time I’ve told anyone that.” A remark that on face value sounds like a positive. The worrying thing for us was that this was often said by individuals that had been undergoing therapy for a significant period of time. It’s only with the experience of working on projects like this that you are able to pick up on these veiled warnings and look to develop strategies and mechanisms to pick up these individuals for onward referrals or signposting to other agencies that are able to help.
Some of the most profound moments of my adult life have come from my experiences with BGH. To work with individuals that have been housebound for several years through social anxiety or injury and feel that they are able to overcome this to be a part of the BGH family, or witnessing participants developing coping strategies for triggers that would normally see them freeze or react with terror, pays testament to the hard work and resilience that these remarkable individuals show when confronted with adversity. This is why, I believe, so many heritage providers and academic institutions are joining the ranks to support BGH projects. To make a real difference!
In spring 2019 we will start our work looking into the Second World War history of Taunton, starting with Crosskeys POW camp. It will only be a small project to begin but we hope to develop it over the coming years to look at other significant sites around Taunton from this period.
For more information please visit www.breakinggroundheritage.org.uk or visit our Facebook page www.facebook.com/veteransarchaeology