The Company of Makers aids ex-servicemen

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Leaving the armed services and starting civilian life again can be a difficult task.

And it can be tough for families who support veterans.

(l-r) Steve Bomford  with a veteran's chest, Chris Robson with her table and Racel Olivia Owen with a veteran's chair. in the memorial gardens at Haslar Hospital.

(l-r) Steve Bomford with a veteran's chest, Chris Robson with her table and Racel Olivia Owen with a veteran's chair. in the memorial gardens at Haslar Hospital.

Now a new group has been helping veterans tell their story through ‘upcycling’ – reworking – old furniture, also helping them explain their service to others outside of the forces.

Steve Bomford and Rachel Owens’s Company of Makers held a series of workshops in the idyllic setting of Haslar Memorial Garden in the grounds of the former Haslar Hospital in Gosport, which was formerly run by the military.

Chris Robson, 55, of Alverstoke, served in the Royal Navy as a nurse from 1976 to 2013.

She decorated a table, painting its legs different colours to represent the four years of training she did.

Covered with pictures of her service, it is a reminder of what life in the navy meant for her.

‘There’s pictures of me doing various things,’ she said. ‘I’ve worked all over the place, Plymouth, Yeovil, Gibraltar. I’ve deployed a few times – twice to the Gulf and to Kosovo.’

For Chris, the process of creating the table was one that invoked forgotten memories.

She added: ‘It was things I’d completely forgotten about. It can be quite emotional when you see this stuff.

‘The pictures were all in the loft in a number of boxes.

‘I took all of them out of the loft and went through them. It’s spurred me on to sort them out properly.

‘I feel fine about sharing it. I think it’s something that we’ve all had to think about – what are we prepared to share.

‘I’m very lucky. I had a great time in the navy, obviously there were some stressful times but actually overall for me it was a fairly good experience.’

Another woman is helping her husband adapt to civilian life.

She asked to remain anonymous.

The 52-year-old from Portsmouth took part in the workshop, ‘upcycling’ – an old chair.

She said: ‘I am married to a former Royal Marine.

‘I have always enjoyed messing around with paints as well as admiring the artwork of others but what resulted from my active participation on this course came as a real surprise.

‘I attended the four days in the unique setting of the centuries old walled memorial garden.

‘The idyllic setting of bluebells, forget-me-nots, twisted ancient yew trees and birdsong triggered the process.

‘The recycling of my old kitchen chair became a process of healing.

‘I became lost in the process, losing sight of an end product.

‘I was alone with myself and my chair for reflection and growing self-awareness.

‘Memories from childhood returned.

‘Whilst working with my chair, painting and scratching, concealing and revealing, I was able to relate to myself and reinvent my perception of who I was, who I am and who I want to be.

‘My chair became my companion on this journey of self-discovery and renewal.’

The firm hopes to work with 16 groups of veterans over the year before exhibiting the work early next year.

Steve said: ‘We’re trying to raise awareness around what it’s like to be in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces and the experience of transitioning from military life to civilian life.

‘It’s not always as easy as you might think.

‘The idea is essentially that veterans and their immediate family work on furniture with a view to using it as a canvass on which to share stories.

‘It’s very much about trying to share the experiences of veterans with civilians.

‘We have the physical aspect of it, the workshop part of it, and another major part of it is the audience not in the room – a social media part of it. That’s my area of expertise.

‘We’ll be using podcasts, video and photography, digitising the process.

‘It’s incredibly varied is what I’ve discovered – it’s not all bad things.

‘There are some very funny stories.

‘All of that is important as it’s very easy to share.’

More workshops are being held for veterans to take part in the ‘upcycling’ of donated furniture.

Those include two sessions at the Veterans’ Outreach Service, Royal Maritime Club, Queen Street, Portsea.

They are on next Wednesday between 2pm and 5pm, and on July 2 at the same time.

And the firm will be at the D-Day 70th anniversary commemorations on Southsea Common next Thursday to Saturday between 10am an 4pm.

On June 29 the group will be at the Portsmouth Paras Parade, at the Royal Marines Museum in Eastney between 10am and 12pm.

More dates are online at companyofmakers.org.uk
Based in the grounds of Haslar, the Company of Maker’s workshops could not have been held in a better place.

Run by Shore Leave Haslar, the memorial garden offers a places for veterans to come and tend to the greenery in a peaceful setting.

Chris Robson is the project leader at Shore Leave Haslar, and was more than happy to welcome the Company of Makers scheme, which is funded by the Armed Forces Community Covenant Fund, into the garden.

Veterans come to the garden and collect honey from the bees there, which is then sold on.

Chris, a former naval nurse, said: ‘It’s a fantastic peaceful restorative place.

‘Everybody here is a volunteer – nobody gets paid for what they’re doing.

‘I find it incredible I do feel quite invigorated when I leave .’

And the garden is set to have its own access via Haslar Road, which has been approved.

It comes as further plans for the redevelopment of Haslar are awaiting final submission and approval.

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