Rooting for each other: Tree planting in support of veteran mental health
At Octopus, making the world a greener place is at the heart of everything we do, from 100% renewable energy to ground-breaking green technologies, our goal is to build a net-zero future.
But to have a truly healthy planet, we need to look after both our natural world and the people within it, and this means making sure that the emissions we produce from our engineers' non-electric vans are accounted for. That’s why we committed to planting 20,000 native trees in Wales with help from our friends at Green Task Force - an organisation dedicated to supporting veterans by providing mental health support and employment through nature-based projects.
Over several weeks, members of the Octopus team from across the UK teamed up with service leavers from the Green Task Force and students from a local military preparation college. Together we planted a variety of hedgerow & broadleaf trees, from Beech to Hawthorn, whilst opening up conversations around PTSD, struggles with mental health and the importance of protecting our natural world.
Our Octopus green hero, Becky, tells the story of the amazing people she met along the way.
It’s 9am on Garn Wen farm. Mist rolls over the hills of Gwent and into the valley below. Today we’re joining a team of service leavers from The Green Task Force, a multinational organisation and subsidiary of the PATT Foundation, who focus on using nature-based therapy to provide a pathway to employment for veterans who’ve struggled with mental health issues such as PTSD.
Our mission? To plant 20,000 native trees, creating habitat for wildlife in this corner of Wales and absorbing greenhouse gases as they grow. It might sound like a colossal task, but with the right tools and military precision, the borders of the first field are planted in a matter of hours, leaving enough time for a well earned tea break and a chat with the team.
When it comes to mental health, talking is important, but sometimes it isn’t easy to do. In the UK, as many as 1 in 6 adults experience anxiety or depression every week, and the number of veterans struggling is even higher; so creating a safe space for honest conversation is paramount, particularly with research showing that men are typically less likely to open up.
With that in mind, as I stepped into the barn that had become our makeshift tea station, I was pleasantly surprised to find a group of veterans discussing the advantages of forest bathing, and the health benefits of filling your hands with soil and taking a deep whiff. “I learned recently that if you put your hands or feet in mud, the enzymes go into your bloodstream and it calms you down,” one tells me, introducing himself as Dave.
Dave’s passion is immediately clear, and like the rest of the group, he is incredibly open and welcoming. He tells me about the 14 years he spent aboard submarines, serving in the Royal Navy. “I enjoyed it but it’s the little things you miss - fresh air, birds twittering in the trees. You really appreciate things a lot more”.
It’s nice to see the sun come out again for some people.
Dave suffered from depression after leaving the forces, as well as being evicted from his home. After being taken in by the Hull Veterans Support Centre, he began working at Green Task Force.
“The biggest thing for me has been meeting people who have had some kind of stress or problem in life, and no one's afraid to talk about it. People are happy to share those experiences and they’re quite genuine with them as well. If one person talks about it and puts their hand up, other people do too.”
Their stories are often as shocking as they are inspiring. Many of the group live with PTSD, and have had experiences of anxiety and depression, not just as a consequence of their time in the forces, but as a result of transitioning back to life as a civilian. For some of these people, the opportunity to work outside and in an environment where talking about their struggles is actively encouraged has been life saving.
“I couldn’t put a price on the value of what the great outdoors actually gives,” says Paul Sykes, chief executive of the PATT Foundation; “to get people out here today, doing something really good like tree planting - giving them the community that they’re used to, they feel like they’ve come home again”.
Twelve Octopus employees came to muck in over the course of the project, all welcomed with open arms before being shown the ropes. With this kind of warmth being presented so readily, it’s easy to see how valuable such a supportive community has been for the whole Green Task Force team. For everyone here, fresh air and feeling part of a positive change is something to be proud of. “It’s good for the soul,” says Dave. “It’s nice to see the sun come out again for some people.”
By planting 20,000 trees, we ensure that tonnes of CO2, a huge contributor to climate change, will be captured, as well as supporting native wildlife, which also needs our help. 41% of UK species have declined since the 1970’s as a result of habitat loss and warming temperatures, but we are making it part of our mission to see those numbers improve whilst fighting climate change.
Going forward, Green Task Force have their sights set on more ambitious ventures. They intend to support even more people struggling with mental health issues across the UK. First priority is growing their own saplings in their 3 new greenhouses, an operation that will give veterans the chance to develop skills in horticulture and, with the therapist they are soon to hire, will also become a new aspect of their nature based therapy.
There is an exciting road ahead for the Green Task Force. If you would like to donate or follow them on their journey, please visit: www.justgiving.com/pattfoundation
Hey I'm Constantine, welcome to Octopus Energy!×Close window