Sport, culture & wellbeing:

Developing interventions to promote wellbeing among British Nuclear Test Veterans and their families

Amy Prescott, Professor Tess Kay and Dr Louise Mansfield.

The 1950s and 1960s saw a frantic scramble by MP’s at Westminster to ensure Great Britain developed nuclear weapons to match the United States and the Soviet Union, during the peak of cold-war tensions (Trundle, 2011). As Ernest Bevin reportedly told Prime Minister Clement Attlee in a Cabinet meeting in 1946: “We’ve got to have this thing over here, whatever it costs. And we’ve got to have the bloody Union Jack flying on top of it” (Hogan, 2017). While the USA and Russia had tested their nuclear warheads, Britain had only got to the developmental stage (Laucht, 2016). With pressures of the economy looming, Whitehall had to choose between keeping up with the arms race, or declare themselves ‘out’, thereby subjecting themselves to a second-class position (Bayliss, 1995). Despite Ministry of Defence (MOD) claims that the trials were planned with ‘meticulous care’ with the health and safety of the participants deemed ‘of utmost importance’, Veterans from the UK, Australia and New Zealand have questioned the adequacy of radiological safety standards, resulting in a continuing legal battle and the on-going question of whether there is a lasting legacy on the health of the Veterans and their families.

Veterans are a specific population, having been screened at service entry for good health (the “healthy soldier” effect; Seltzer & Jablon, 1974). Veterans will have been exposed to a unique set of conditions that can bring short and long-term adverse effects, including deployment to stressful environments such as warzones, experience of life threat via combat, and physical or emotional injury, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Research has been conducted with the focus of understanding the impact of military lifestyles on wellbeing, for example, Burrell et al. (2006) suggests that physical and mental health issues associated with military service persist as challenges for many veterans.

It is important for research to explore how can we ensure all communities live well while suffering from health issues. Therefore, this study will examine the promotion of wellbeing among the Nuclear Test Veteran community through the development of sport and/or cultural interventions.

The present study aligns to the view that there is a commitment to identifying an approach to in-depth understanding of the problem/phenomena. The participants’ point of view will be interpreted and reported in a literary style with participant commentaries as the primary focus (Streubert, Speziale & Carpenter, 2007). For this study, it is important to understand the participants’ past but also their present and future aspirations. We will do this by using images as a tool or prompt with other forms of data collection (photo elicitation), whereby using pictures or film-clips in an interview setting and asking respondents for their reactions to particular images. Visual images can additionally be used to understand the way in which people live their lives and visual influences they have had throughout their life-course. With the present study’s focus on wellbeing it would be beneficial to explore the meanings individuals attach across different contexts to areas of physical activity, health and wellbeing through the stories of the participants (Smith & Sparkes, 2009).

The impact of this research will be in understanding the role of community culture and physical activity interventions on improving wellbeing in British Nuclear Test Veterans. Based on previous work, the research may contribute to policy and practice – with suggestions for community and clinical professionals working with veterans. Intervention development will include lay knowledge and tailored design which includes the target population at all stages of the research (Andreasen, 1995). Accordingly, in the present study, we will work closely with the community of the Nuclear Test Veterans in the design, implementation and evaluation stages.