Operation Cairngorms has been setup by a team of British Army veterans in the hope of helping others by providing wilderness-based workshops, courses and retreats.
The initial founders Stu and Pip are a husband-and-wife team, both Veterans with a combine service time of over 30years and operational tour experiences ranging in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. They truly believe in giving back and supporting others, Stu left full time employment to bring the project online fully in Oct 2021 after losing yet another friend to suicide. He retrained officially as an outdoor and bushcraft instructor and now leads the physical workshops and experiences.
It isn’t just the military they now support though; Pip having suffered severe postnatal depression found herself in a very dark place, she was supported by medical professionals and friends so very much understands just what other women maybe suffering with and understands the stigma that may follow, retrained as a forest therapy practitioner, using these skills to help people both mentally and physically.
During the covid lockdown, having taken ownership of a woodland, they realized the potential to provide a much-needed opportunity for others to be away from screens, stresses and the stigma going on around them. They both understood the potential of spending time in such a peaceful environment, and, after much thought and discussion, Operation Cairngorms was created.
Stu served in the Royal Dragoon Guards for 12 years of which 9 were spent in the Regiments Close Reconnaissance troop.
He spent time on operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan and gained a huge sense of responsibility, ownership and true camaraderie. Stu's commitment during his military days was to coach and mentor fellow soldiers ensuring they were prepared for whatever life threw at them, this included during the final months whilst they transitioned to becoming a Veteran.
Since leaving the military, he has worked in different industries and has always had the same approach to the workforce or as he always puts it 'The Team'.
Taking ownership of the woodland gave Stu a huge opportunity although not first realised. He spent a huge amount of time putting physical effort and plans together creating areas and all between working a full time job travelling all over the country, it was his way of decompressing. However after loosing yet another member of the Regimental family he shifted focus and under the support of his family left full time employment to bring the Op Cairngorms project to life in the hope of providing an intervention or a way of preventing others doing the same.
His passion is to help others in a peer to peer manner and Operation Cairngorms now provides him that opportunity.
Stu is a fully qualified NCFE bushcraft instructor and has qualifications in Health and Safety, Safeguarding Vulnerable Adults and children, food hygiene and BASP first aid.
Co-Founder and UK's First female Army Commando.
Pip is a retired Officer having served 17 years in the British Army. During this time she served in various countries and was the first female Army Commando. She served as part of 3 Commando Brigade and was deployed on Op Telic 1.
Pip went on to specialise in the training and development of soldiers and senior management until leaving in 2014.
On returning home to Scotland she suffered from severe postnatal depression which led to changes in her personal and family life. Part of this change was to retrain as an outdoor leader working with children with additional support needs and more recently qualifying as a Therapeutic Forest Practitioner. Pip proactively spends time focusing on and supporting others, encouraging positive physical and mental health.
Liz Mcconaghy is an ex-RAF Chinook crewmember who has deployed worldwide with the CH47 fleet, including to Iraq and Afghanistan. She was the youngest aircrew to deploy to Iraq. Part of her role during these conflicts was the MERT medical recovery aircraft for injured soldiers. WE discovered Liz after reading her story in her book Chinook Crew 'Chick': Highs and lows of Forces Life from the longest serving female RAF Chinook force crewmember and empathizing with her own mental helath struggles after leaving the services.
In Liz's words:
‘ When I left the military I suffered massively with lack of Identity and purpose. PTSD from my time Operating on the MERT soon caught up with me and in 2020 I took a huge overdose. The recovery journey coming through my PTSD has been the hardest battle I’ve ever fought but I’m stronger because of it. The work Op Cairngorm are doing to help other Veterans connect with nature and find purpose again is so important. Bringing together people with shared experiences to help one another and form a new tribe and identity.’
We are grateful to Liz and her support in championing Op Cairngorms and proud to have her as a patron.
TO SUPPORT MEMBERS OF THE MILITARY BOTH SERVING AND VETERANS, OFFERING TIME OUTDOORS, IN A WOODLAND ENVIRONMENT, LEARNING NEW SKILLS AND PROVIDING OPPORTUNITIES TO RESET AND REBALANCE.