supporting the recovery of wounded, injured and sick UK military personnel

Research into embedding adaptive sport, adventurous training and well-being support offered at the Battle Back Centre for wounded, injured and sick military personnel has demonstrated a significant and sustained improvement in positive mental wellbeing.

supporting the recovery of wounded, injured and sick UK military personnel

The Challenge

A drastic increase in UK military deployment to war zones, such as Afghanistan and Iraq occurred in the early part of 21st century.

This prompted The Royal British Legion (TRBL) to commission the university to design, deliver and evaluate recovery courses to support military personnel who became wounded, injured or sick with mental or physical illnesses. This included a £27 million donation to the Defence Recovery Capability and a 10-year commitment from TRBL to run The Battle Back Centre where the 5-day residential courses are delivered.

Some military personnel may make a full recovery and return to duty, but many are medically discharged. Whatever the outcome, the uncertainty accompanying injury or diagnosis of a career-impacting illness can be challenging for many individuals.

The mission of the Battle Back Centre is to help Armed Forces personnel who are wounded, injured or sick (WIS) to achieve their best possible recovery and either return to military duty or make a smooth transition to civilian life

The supportive courses at the Battle Back Centre and the associated research has been imperative for two key reasons:

  1. Supporting the recovery of WIS military personnel
  2. It has provided an opportunity for further research into how adventure training and adaptive physical activity can facilitate recovery
The Approach

The Battle Back Multi Activity Course (MAC) is a non-clinical service provided by TRBL and delivered and researched by our team at Leeds Beckett University (LBU). Early research involved consultations with expert practitioners and academics as well as a review of existing literature. This has provided an extensive insight into the considerations needed into the key elements of an experience that could create the opportunity for effort-driven, custom built challenges which may facilitate personal development and growth.

The resulting programme is provided for in-service personnel and is now the only mandatory course for WIS personnel in the British Army and Royal Air Force using adaptive sport and adventurous training as a context for personal development and growth. The course supports participants to achieve their best possible recovery to return to duty or make a smooth transition to civilian life.

Specialist coaching staff are provided by Carnegie Great Outdoors.

  1. 11 pilots were run with 76 participants. Data gathered informed the development of each course, one week to the next. The consolidation report of the pilot courses provided suggestions, and along with theoretical underpinning, guided the delivery of future courses.

  2. Between 2012-2015, 24 courses per year with a capacity of 24 participants ran with more individualised, qualitative research conducted. It was found that Multi Activity Courses (MAC) stimulated a balance of present- and future-oriented psychosocial outcomes for the participants.

  3. In 2016, LBU had a longitudinal research project approved by the Ministry of Defence (MOD). This allowed for a repeated measures study into the long-term alterations of participants mental well-being and their behaviours.

  4. In 2017, the content of the MAC was adapted to suit an audience of armed forced veterans and bespoke courses began.

To date, 177 veterans have attended a course. Following six courses, 105 participants had contributed to the research and reported an average increase of 49% in their mental well-being during the veterans course.

The Impact

Our research on the MAC offered at the Battle Back centre for wounded, injured and sick military personnel has demonstrated a significant and sustained improvement in positive mental wellbeing for many of the 4,000 participants who have attended – leading to direct changes in the policies, practices and processes within the MOD. 

The 5-day MAC is now a mandatory Core Recovery Event (CRE) for all recovering WIS personnel within the British Army and The Royal Air Force. Since 2019 it is also been offered to veterans and junior trainee soldiers. Beyond the armed forces, supportive courses have been delivered to 27 spinal cord and brain injured participants, members of their family and carers.

  1. Sustainably improving the mental well-being of recovering armed forces personnel 

    The primary impact evidenced in LBU research is the positive influence the recovery courses have on the mental well-being of the thousands of national and international participants.

    While attending a MAC, consenting participants complete a quantified scale upon arrival and again at the end of the course regarding their mental well-being. They are then invited to contribute at four time points over the next 12 months. The average well-being scores of the contributing participants was significantly higher at every time point after attending a MAC than the average score before the course. An increase in a person’s well-being score of at least 3 represents meaningful change for the individual. The average increase over 12 months for MAC participants is 5.2. 

  2. Informing the Royal British Legion’s strategic approach to funding recovery support

    LBU’s research into the design and delivery of effective adventure therapy programmes gave TRBL an academically informed design with which to work from in the delivery of the first MACs. Antony Baines, Executive Director of Operations at TRBL explained “the kind of research that went into the initial pilot to establish the courses and then the evaluation of the subsequent pilots were both critical in terms of the Legion committing long term funding”.

I cannot express adequately, how the experience helped me. I am so grateful to the The Royal British Legion for giving me the opportunity to attend; it literally saved my life. This was down to the amazing people who run the course, I'll always be grateful to them, thank you.

MAC participant
  1. Informing and influencing the armed forces recovery pathways

    When MAC’s first became available for WIS army personnel, the opportunity to attend was optional. Personnel Recovery Units - who manage the recovery of the WIS - identify occasions when it would benefit a participant to spend time on a MAC in order to accelerate recovery. Research into the reported benefits of the participants was made available to the MoD’s Defence Recovery Capability. This is the tri-service department that manages all UK armed forces WIS personnel. In 2014, they commanded Army Recovery Capability to mandate attendance on a MAC for all Army WIS personnel. This was an informed decision based on the success of the MACs in supporting the recovery of WIS participants so far.

  2. Impact beyond in-service WIS military personnel


    1. Policy change at RBL to start funding Veterans courses at Battle Back Until 2017 - Recovery support was delivered to those WIS personnel who were still in-service. Considering the future potential for supportive courses at the Battle Back Centre, TRBL decided to commission the delivery of bespoke courses for Veterans.
    2. Policy change at the British Army Foundation College to run 2 MACs per year as part of junior soldier training - Having read LBUs research as well as witnessing the impact of the MAC during his time at Army Recovery Capability, the now Commanding Officer of the British Army Foundation College believed junior soldiers may also benefit from this type of support. He used LBU’s research evidence to gain permission from Army Regional Command for supportive courses for junior soldiers to be delivered.
    3. Supporting spinal cord and brain injured participants, their families and carers - The Rugby Football Union’s Injured Players Foundation (IPF) is a charity serving those who have been catastrophically injured playing rugby. Their welfare officer was aware of the positive impact MACs have for WIS military personnel and felt that their clients could benefit from similar supportive courses. The IPF have decided to fund a course every year since the first in 2017. To date 27 spinal cord and brain injured participants, members of their family and carers have benefited.

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