We are celebrating a record-breaking year at the University of Essex with our incredible work receiving four nominations in the prestigious Times Higher Education Awards. This is the most the university has ever received in one year and is the joint highest for 2023. As the University marks our 60th anniversary we are proud to highlight this outstanding achievement across our teaching, research, and professional services teams.

Research Project of the Year: STEM

Veterans blighted by PTSD are being helped back into society by a ground-breaking psychological study harnessing the power of fishing – which is transforming NHS mental health care.

The project has been praised by the Ministry of Defence (receiving a gold award in 2022), recognised by The Angling Trust and recently received a contract to deliver community mental health treatment for the NHS Essex Partnership University Trust via local volunteering bodies.

It also has an international impact with the Dutch national fishing board using their work to develop policy.

The work– led by psychologist Dr Nick Cooper and Dr Mark Wheeler – is now part of a Department of Health and Social Care-funded research scheme after a successful study launched in 2021/22.

It took 43 servicemen with PTSD, who had an average of 12 years military experience on a weekend fishing retreat – focussing on relaxation, socialisation and learning new skills.

The innovative intervention sparked significant clinical change in 60% of participants that reduced depression and anxiety for a month after the trip – with wellbeing scores soaring.

It also confirmed the 30-hour, 2-day peer-support intervention can now be expanded to deliver a large-scale trial using the same methods.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder sees veterans relive traumatic events they witnessed in service and can lead to debilitating depression, anxiety and even suicide.

Dr Cooper has found a way to break barriers stopping veterans and other sufferers from engaging with traditional therapy.

By emphasising learning a new recreational skill rather than traditional therapy he uses peer support and sessions led by a qualified recreation coach.
After soothing hours standing bankside, some go on to coach others saying they have found their “second family”.

Robbie Arnott, 33, who served in the 1st Royal Anglian, until 2011, said: “It is being in nature... when you are down the lakes it’s just you and your friends if you want to talk.”

During 2021/22 the team began a four-year government-funded research project to aid veterans with a view to fishing being prescribed by GPs.

One of only three National Institute for Health and Care Research projects nationwide Dr Cooper is paving the way for nature-based treatments.

The first phase of the research is now completed and is being expanded by the Department of Health and Social Care.

This project captured the public’s imagination and was profiled by Sky News, The Daily Telegraph, BBC and regional media sources.

Part of the University’s Angling for Good project the research has been praised, with more than 500 participants and their families receiving vital help from Dr Cooper and his team.

The work began over a Christmas party conversation which snowballed into the launch of a community interest company, with its own fishing lakes - which was part-funded by the Environment Agency.

The overgrown corner of Essex farmland is now a thriving hub of innovative research and boasts three lakes, beehives and rare chickens.

The iCarp CIC Lifted Lakes regularly hosts veterans from across the country to harness the soothing power of nature.

Find out more on the project page