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How Greatwood is giving H.O.P.E. to trauma sufferers

09 August 2018


Greatwood, one of the charities supported by Octopus Giving has recently introduced a new educational programme called H.O.P.E. It stands for Horses, Opportunities, Progression, Employment.

About Greatwood

Greatwood uses ex-racehorses to educate disadvantaged children and young adults with special educational needs. As well as delivering pioneering education programmes designed to teach emotional literacy and life skills for people who need them, they never turn away a horse that is suffering or neglected.

What is H.O.P.E.?

H.O.P.E. is a series of programmes specifically aimed at all those living with the effects of trauma, built on existing programmes of work shown to be of therapeutic value.

Greatwood offers a learning environment that focuses on addressing the effects of trauma, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The courses are for, but not limited to, serving and former armed services personnel, reservists, emergency services workers and their families.

Both former racehorses and former service personnel have experienced a high level of training and discipline, together with a strict regime. But reintegration into domestic or civilian life can present significant challenges.

What is PTSD?

According to the NHS, PTSD is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events. People with PTSD often relive the traumatic event through nightmares and flashback, and frequently experience feelings of isolation, irritability and guilt. They may also have sleeping problems and find it difficult.

Greatwood recognises that the empathy felt between horse and human can foster the positive growth of self-esteem and identity. This can, in turn, be used as a stepping stone for the exploration, creation and development of new life possibilities and career paths.

How can H.O.P.E help?

The inclusive, interactive and learner-focused environment at Greatwood is used as a vehicle for self-development and progression. Although tailored to individual needs, the H.O.P.E programmes fall broadly into three complementary and interchangeable areas:

  • Improving emotional and physical wellbeing
  • Supporting career recovery or progression
  • Promotion of post-traumatic growth

Greatwood using thoroughbred horses and a range of other animals, as well as sensory and vegetable gardens, all working together to support a wide range of personalised targets that reflect the cycle of rehabilitation and change.

Results include improved self-confidence and personal esteem, and better psychological well-being and communication skills. Greatwood also offers additional qualifications and experiences that support career transition and instil a belief in a positive future.

Linda’s story

Linda is currently being supported by a local women’s aid charity. Linda has received cognitive behavioural therapy as a treatment for PTSD, but now feels it is time for her to actively construct a new career pathway for herself. When she first arrived at Greatwood, Linda felt it was very unlikely that she would be able to conquer her fears and even get close enough to touch the imposing former racehorses.

Two days into the H.O.P.E pilot project, Linda was not only confident in grooming and leading the thoroughbreds but had also formed a special, and supportive, bond with the Irish twelve-year-old ex-racehorse Aldaado. After having spent time with the Greatwood thoroughbreds, she is now considering enrolling on the H.O.P.E. programme’s vocational courses as a further stepping stone towards a career in the equine industry.

Tom’s story

Working in bomb disposal during the Rhodesian Civil War (Zimbabwe War of Liberation), Tom is no stranger to trauma and its lasting effects. He is a key member of an established local group where, although not every member is a military veteran, members share their difficulties with others who have been through traumatic experiences.

Tom was referred to Greatwood by the Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership. Almost immediately, he found the inclusive and supportive environment created during the H.O.P.E. project especially helpful. As he recalls: “I opened up and was treated with dignity, respect, but most of all compassion. The H.O.P.E project provided me with social interaction and has been helpful for networking with others in similar circumstances.”

Tom successfully completed an accredited Level 1 qualification which was assessed using strategies which were carefully differentiated for individual learners. He also found the interaction with animals (through real-world care routines such as grooming) a particularly powerful aspect of the programme. “I haven’t found joy like this for a long, long while. It has rekindled my love of animals. I found empathy, compassion and understanding from everyone including the animals… It’s a great way to mindfulness. I would definitely recommend the H.O.P.E. project to others. I think more people should get to know about it.”

For more information about Greatwood and H.O.P.E., visit their website.