It can be a hard transition back to ‘civvy street’ for those military personnel who have served their country to keep us all safe. Years of tours, being away from family and not living a 9-5 life, can make it difficult for those who need to find a new direction when the time comes. Alex Hardman (Al. 1982-85) is Programme Leader at Plumpton College for 11 years and co-leads the HighGround Course, which started last year and is the only course of its kind in the country.
Interview by Stephanie Temple:
- Alex, having served in the Parachute Regiment yourself, how difficult is it to adjust to life outside the barracks?
It was difficult and I found it hard to adjust. The biggest challenge was accepting that I had changed whilst in the Army and that change affected what I did in life after the Army. Once I worked out how to use my military skills to help me life became a lot easier.
- What was the highlight of your military career?
Passing selection for the Parachute Regiment and winning the Maroon Beret, plus being awarded my wings were personal highlights and an achievement that I had set myself. Also returning home with my Company from an operational tour will always be memorable to me.
- How did the HighGround Course come to fruition and how did you get involved?
I was introduced to Anna Baker Cresswell (HighGround Founder and Development Director) in 2014 at a Public Policy Exchange event in Westminster titled ‘Fulfilling our Commitment to the Armed Services Community: The Challenge for Local Authorities’. At the time I was in my final year of an Education Degree at University of Brighton and was interested in how people adjust from the military to working in education; my dissertation was an enquiry that explored people’s experience of their transition. When I found out about HighGround’s aims I knew that I wanted to get involved and that Plumpton College was the perfect place for HighGround courses to run. I was aware that part of Plumpton College’s original mission was to retrain veterans from WW1 and WW2 for careers in Agriculture, Horticulture and Poultry and was confident I would get approval from the college’s principal Des Lambert OBE. All the staff at Plumpton have been very supportive to this work and it’s our combined effort that has made it a success.
- What is the aim of the Charity and the course?
HighGround’s mission is to support and improve the wellbeing of those who have served in HM Forces using safe, rural environments where they can access new career and vocational opportunities in the land-based sector. The week long residential courses we offer, called Rural Experience Weeks, give people a reality check of what work in the Land based Sector really involves. Everyone on the courses I have worked with have been pleasantly surprised at how many opportunities there are and how much of a natural appeal they have to ex-military people.
- How have you seen it change people’s lives?
We have designed the course to show people that you can transfer military skills to work in the Land based sector. I have seen people start the course with a sense of uncertainty about their future and at the end say that they feel more confident and empowered about making the move into a new career. One direct change I have seen is HighGround students enrolling onto full time and part time courses in Gamekeeping and Countryside Management at Plumpton College.
- It’s the only course of its kind in the country – have you had interest from other military charities wanting to take the idea on?
Yes other charities have shown an interest and we often work in collaboration with them to achieve our aim of supporting those who have served in HM Forces.
- What kind of people is the HighGround course tailored for and what’s the process for applying for a place?
- From working with the ‘students’, what’s the most inspirational story you’ve heard?
At the end of the week we have a social evening, I remember one student telling me how he found the positivity he had experienced during the week almost overpowering. This particular ‘student’ had been working in an extremely demanding role in the Forces and was about to leave that role - it was reassuring to hear that what we do during the week works.
- If you could give people out there leaving the Forces some advice on rejoining civilian life, what would you say?
Embrace what your military skills give you and know that there are people who have trod the same path and are willing and able to help you.
- Finally, how can people get involved with the charity or find out more details?
We welcome guest speakers on the course, especially those who have served and are now working in the Land based sector. Guest speakers to date include smallholders, company directors, and chief executives which goes to show what is possible after work in HM Forces.
We also invite interested parties to come and meet people at the end of course social evening to hear first-hand about the course.
HighGround contact details:
RHQ, The London Scottish Regiment
95 Horseferry Road
London SW1P 2DX
Anna Baker Cresswell
Plumpton College contact details:
01273 892091, 07817731590