Military Writing Network (MWN) and REF 2014
The MWN is recorded in REF 2014 as having the following research impacts:
The project with SSAFA and Combat Stress UK focused on allowing members of families of armed forces to encounter the experiences of their loved ones in varied and exciting ways (award event, exhibition, publication) and underlining the importance of the record of such experience.
- Establishing a 'home' (in the early-stage archive) for the writing of veterans who submitted to the SSAFA-sponsored call for writing and/or who are or have been clients of Combat Stress UK or who have submitted their writing since these events.
Working initially with SSAFA (The Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen Family Association) in 2009/10, the MWN administered a writing competition, Forces Stories and Poems. The competition received 253 entries, of which the works of 11 prize-winning and commended authors were published in the chapbook, Forces Stories and Poems (KUP/SSAFA, 2011). The initial print run of 400 copies is now sold out. A launch event at Kingston University in May 2011 attracted an audience of 200 which included SSAFA veterans, prize winners, and serving members of the Armed Forces representing RAF, RE, RN, WRNS, and TA.
Guest speaker General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue KCB CBE stated:
It is important to remember those who fell in previous conflicts, but to also not forget those who are actively serving right now all over the world. We [at SSAFA] are delighted to be working with Kingston University on such a noteworthy initiative.
Roger Kirkpatrick (RAF, retired), who served as one of the judges for the competition, also writes:
The Forces Stories and Poems chapbook . . . remains an effective tool with which to change perceptions and influence movers and shakers (testimonial, 20/01/2013).
- The chapbook was featured in the Times (Saturday, 21/5/2011):
Pity, expressed in both poetry and prose, is certainly among the human emotions expressed in the remarkable little Kingston University Press chapbook, Forces Stories and Poems . . . This is a striking short collection and the work . . . featured in the chapbook is, as one of the judges conceded, "only a fraction of what we would have wished to include." Profit from sales of Forces Stories and Poems and entry fees to the competition will go to SSAFA Forces Help, which supported more than 50,000 people last year.
- Subsequently, working with Combat Stress UK (the registered mental health charity for veterans), the MWN ran a series of four writing workshops over a period of three months in 2011/12 at Combat Stress Leatherhead, a therapeutic environment for veterans who are mainly PTSD survivors. Thirty clients signed up for the workshops, of which 23 attended, travelling an average of 89.5 miles to do so.
Janice Lobban, psychotherapist at Combat Stress, assessed the results of these workshops as follows:
Collaborative work with the Military Writing Network gave Combat Stress veterans the valuable opportunity of developing creative writing skills within a supportive and facilitating environment. Typically, the clinical presentation of Combat Stress veterans causes them to avoid unfamiliar situations and the loss of self-confidence can affect the ability to develop creative potential. By running workshops within the safety of our Surrey treatment Research Groupand using their considerable knowledge and experience, the MWN leaders Siobhan Campbell and Joseph Ryan (MFA student of Siobhan) enabled veterans to have the confidence to experiment with new ideas and craft their writing skills whilst receiving sensitive validation of the pre-written pieces they brought to the meetings. Exercises were set which introduced fresh approaches, stimulating further growth. Veterans travelled long distances in order to make use of the workshops and there are regular enquiries from the veterans as to whether further workshops might be held in the future as they were so beneficial.
After years of writing poetry simply for pleasure or from the deep need to express themselves in this way, Combat Stress veterans received recognition from the MWN which resulted in the publication of an anthology of poems and short stories in 2012. It has given the veterans involved a huge sense of achievement and it would not have been possible without the expertise and encouragement of Siobhan and her team.
- Growing out of the Combat Stress workshops, 324 written entries and 37 pieces of artwork for potential publication in a Combat Stress anthology, Courage and Strength (KUP/Combat Stress, 2012) were received through solicitation on an online workshop, Combat Stress clients, Combat Stress residential centres, and continuing writers in the Forces Stories and Poems project. Entries were judged by a panel including veterans, Combat Stress therapist Lobban, and Campbell, and 103 pieces were chosen for publication. The Shards of Hope/Courage and Strength exhibition and book launch at Guildford Cathedral from October 31 to November 15, 2012 paired 24 pieces of artwork with 24 poems from the anthology. The launch (on October 31) was attended by 160 people and was addressed by the Dean of the Cathedral and by Commodore Andrew Cameron, Chief Executive of Combat Stress UK. As of January 31, 2013, 153 copies of Courage and Strength have been sold, with all profits going to Combat Stress UK, and 55 copies have been donated by Combat Stress UK.
In the introduction to the anthology, General the Lord Dannatt GCB CBE MC DL Chief of the General Staff (2006-2009), writes:
The contributors to this volume have shown the qualities of Courage and Strength throughout their military careers and never more so than in facing up to the lasting effects of their experiences. The work of Combat Stress with Veterans has been essential since Service men returned from the Great War. It is exciting, that creative writing can be added, as one veteran says as 'another tool to the therapeutic toolbox.
Dr Meg Jensen
Life Narrative Research Group
Kingston upon Thames
Tel: +44 (0)20 8417 2282