Last night, (Sunday) we returned home after running a 3-day project at The Royal Hospital Chelsea. We were asked to design an activity that would use heritage to support well-being of Chelsea Pensioners and, having consulted with the Heritage Manager, we opted for graveyard survey.

We were supported by a team of Royal Engineers, who are experts in non-invasive surveying methods, and under the management of cultural heritage specialist Tina Kilnan and Toby from The Royal Military Police Museum.


The In-Pensioners recorded the text that was still visible on the headstones and added it to a database which we will now add to the GPS co-ordinates generated by the Royal Engineers to create an online map of the graveyard. Some fascinating stories were discovered! 

We ran this project for a number of reasons. Firstly, to create an interesting, outdoor activity that anyone no matter their age, ability, or health could do, and with a desire to design something that would inspire and interest the Chelsea Pensioners, which would benefit their well-being.   Secondly, we were recording information that is invaluable to understanding, not only the hospital’s history, but also, due to who is buried there, the world’s. Sadly, due inpart to pollution and the weather, many headstones are now illegible so our work will allow future generations to learn about the site long after more headstones have been damaged. We’ll be producing a preservation report for the hospital too. Thirdly, to use the project to provide a platform for education. In addition to learning how to conduct a survey of this nature, we also invited the photographer, Jasper Dalgleish, who not only took photos of all the headstones, but who also delivered training in photography and post-processing. 

Recording

On Friday afternoon, we hosted a small tea party and were enormously grateful to our guests for coming to see us. They included the Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, General Officer Commanding London District, the CEO of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, the OC of the Royal Engineers team, the Head of The Northern Veterans Research Hub at Northumbria University and our President, the Lord Frederick Windsor, who kindly spoke. After tea, we couldn’t resist taking one of the boys out for supper and had a night to remember! 

We’d like to express our thanks to the Governor of the Royal Hospital, the Heritage Manager, the Director of Engagement, our President, Tina (and her partner, Ian), Toby, Jasper Dalgleish, Nick (a long-term unemployed local who gave us a hand recording graves), and all the Chelsea Pensioners who took part!

Day 1 – Learning about gravestones

The project created an opportunity for the pensioners to use their skills, and pick up some new ones, to interpret, record, and protect a wonderful, and hugely important, piece of London’s history and heritage. It demonstrated, yet again, how seamlessly aligned personal development and well-being can be to heritage projects.  We loved working with the veterans and there was something quite philosophical about sitting in the sunshine delving into the lives of former soldiers whilst listening to the tales of living ones. A reminder of how important it is to capture as much history as we can, before it’s too late! 

The Lord Frederick & Sophie Windsor, Royal Engineers, RHC Heritage Manager & SO! Trustee

If you are a heritage organisation, or have access to heritage, and wish to discuss using your assets to deliver projects to tackle social isolation, improve well-being, or to embed our employability/career management programme please contact us at nicholas@soldieron.org.uk