Just the job
Sporting Gun|December 2020
Anna Baker Cresswell decided she wanted to help military personnel recover from their injuries and find work in the countryside once they left the Forces, so she set up a charity to do this, she tells Philip Reynolds
Anna Baker Cresswell

The importance of high ground in military strategy has been a given for millennia. Those who control it normally have the advantage, be it for defensive or offensive purposes. Gaining or holding it in the crucible of battle most often determines the outcome of an engagement; the way forward.

The charity HighGround also points the way forward for members of the Armed Forces, be they injured serving personnel, or veterans and service leavers. Many are in the midst of their own very personal battles and this is where Anna Baker Cresswell and the charity she founded in 2012 comes in.

Seed of an idea

She describes it as the child of Gardening Leave, HighGround’s forerunner, which was set up in 2007 with the aim of using horticultural therapy to help military personnel overcome their injuries, both physical and mental. She had a friend who returned from the Falklands conflict in 1982 a changed man, and it was this and her mother who inspired her.

Horticultural therapy and its holistic benefits through gardening activity for military personnel is one of the two main strands of HighGround’s work. More on this later. The other is land-based employment.

Many veterans and service leavers find the transition to Civvy Street a particular challenge. It is a different sort of battle, less deadly, but in its own way equally as challenging. The charity helps with this, to find opportunities in rural pursuits, be it country sports, forestry, gamekeeping, you name it, and it is open to anybody who has served in the Armed Forces. The premise is neatly summed up in HighGround’s hashtag: Outdoors is better.

Anna takes up the story: “Why the landbased sector? Military people like to be busy; they like being outdoors; they are very good at sticking to the task and keeping going until it’s finished; they are very adaptable, but I think the overriding thing that I would say is, they just like being outdoors. Nobody really joined the military to drive a desk. I can’t believe you’d ask anyone who has served in the military ‘do you enjoy sitting at a desk?’”

The land-based employment aspect of HighGround’s work sprouted from the work Anna and her colleagues were doing in horticultural therapy at the Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre at Stanford Hall in Nottinghamshire. While conducting this work, which is increasingly being recognised by defence medics as invaluable, Anna thought that a logical progression to it was helping people find land-based employment once they left the military.

Strategy

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