Client Story

Veterans at Ease

  • Location: Tyne & Wear
  • Sector: Community Services
  • Amount: £100k
  • Purpose: Refurbishment
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In 1999, Christina moved to Kosovo and Bosnia after taking a job with Oxfam International. When it was nearing the end of the war she decided to remain in Bosnia, which she did for a further four years supporting the war refugees and displaced people returning to their homes.


“In my last job in Bosnia with ICMP I witnessed the mass graves first-hand and saw the charred bodies from people burnt in their houses.” Her work also included the victims from Srebrenica.

Back in England, as Head of Grants and Donors Services for County Durham Community Foundation, an application came across her desk.

“It was from a gentleman seeking a grant to set up a charity. I was surprised to see he’d been in Bosnia. I wrote on the application, ‘Bosnia! Our paths will cross.’”

Garreth’s charity, Veterans at Ease, was conceived in response to his own lived experiences. He had served ten years in HM Armed Forces, with tours of Bosnia and Northern Ireland, before training as a Scenes of Crime Officer with the Police.

In 2012, she met Garreth at a work event. She turned to her friend and said, “I’ve just met the man I’m going to marry.” They married 18 months later.

In 2006, Garreth’s world had come crashing down. “He’d had flashbacks and nightmares from his time in Bosnia, but this was much worse.  He took a week off work, which ended up as a year.”

He did 12 sessions of NHS Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). It didn’t work.

Christina explained. “He was at rock bottom, suicidal. A friend said he knew of someone who did a different type of therapy. So, he engaged privately with a psychotherapist who used neuro-linguistic psychotherapy (NLP). Within a couple of weeks, he started to phase back into work. It shifted his military trauma.”

Garreth set up Veterans at Ease to offer veterans the choice of NLP, which wasn’t available on the NHS. All its therapists are ex-Forces.

“It’s veterans supporting veterans. A lot of the time that’s the key to getting them through the door,” Christina said. “We pick up the extremely complex cases of PTSD who have perhaps been through the NHS and are at the point they say there’s no other hope. We say there is, engage with us.”

NLP is not offered on the NHS as it is not recognised by the regulating body, NICE.

“America is way ahead, and their initial clinical trials show an 85% success rate for NLP, compared to the NHS’s 35% success rate for CBT. We are mirroring the results in America; we have 80-85% success rate year-on-year. We are the only charity in the country providing NLP the way we are that is so clinically controlled.”

To date, they’ve supported 500 veterans, with around 40% presenting suicidal thoughts.

Veterans at Ease has been chosen as the delivery agent for the first clinical trials of NLP in the UK with Kings College London and Belfast University.

“We are now on a national basis, linking into the very first clinical trials of using NLP in veterans. It is revolutionary. In 10 or 15 years, it will completely change the way people look at and hopefully access therapy.”

After Veterans at Ease was registered as a charity in 2011, its trustees secured a Big Lottery grant of £386k to cover the next four years. In 2015, Christina joined Veterans at Ease, but quickly realised they had made no contingency plans after the grant monies were spent. It had three offices, four therapists and company cars.

“I saw they had a mountain to climb. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stop the haemorrhaging of money that was happening post-Big Lottery.”

The charity ‘limped’ through to July 2017, where they were close to shutting completely.  “A lot of our trustees were ex-beneficiaries and knew the importance of having choice of therapies.  So, they asked us to do whatever we could to try and keep the charity going.”

Reputationally as well the charity had a lot to lose.  It was the first military charity to receive the Queen’s Award, it had been accepted into the Confederation of Service Charities and it had passed a Charity Commission audit without issue.

That summer they made everyone redundant except Garreth who went to 40% salary.  They closed offices and changed some of the trustees. Christina joined the Board as Treasurer and they started looking at the future from a business perspective.

Unwilling to charge the veterans for its services, Christina said the only way forward where they weren’t dependent on grants was to open a trading arm.

They decided to tap into the fact the North East is home to 22% of the British Army.

“We have by definition more than the average number of veterans in the area and supporters of the military. So, we took the decision to get them to help – to ask for donations – and go down the route of charity shops.”

Key Fund gave them the initial grant and loan investment to open the first shop in Whitley Bay in 2018.

“The beauty of Key Fund is it gave us enough money to start up. It was a loan against the enterprise. It wouldn’t affect the charity reputationally or force it to close if it went pear shaped.”

They now have four charity shops in the North East, two with therapy centres on the premises. The shop pays for their charity’s rent and running costs at the centre.

Key Fund gave a further £100k investment in December 2021 to expand into Norfolk and Tees Valley, where they are on track to open five more shops.

“It fits our ambition to become a national charity. In Covid when we went online, people came from all over the country asking for support.”

Despite launching the new shops during the pandemic, turnover will be £400,000 this year, with a projected one million turnover by the end of 2023. They currently employ 31 full and part-time staff.

Trading is more vital than ever as the charity was hit hard in Covid, with fundraising events cancelled overnight. The team was successful with grants, but workload hugely increased for the therapists, with a 180% uplift in demand.

“We’re also supporting the emergency services. What happened in Covid nobody has experienced outside combat medics. It takes 10-15 years for PTSD to manifest. We’re already getting calls. It’s going to explode in terms of the mental health need to those frontline services over the coming years.”

Without Key Fund, Christina said they wouldn’t have been able to expand its charity shops into a new area.

“They are brilliant. I have a lovely relationship with Key Fund, they’ve been very supportive. They talk you through things and make sure it’s right; they show their support.”

Their 5–10-year plan is to have shops and therapy centres in the most prolific armed forces areas in the country. “We’ve ridden the storm and come out the other side, and used our time during Covid to take the decision to expand with more shops – so we’ve come out of it stronger with more impact in the market place.”


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