Case Study:
Battling On

Veterans At Ease


The Full Story.

In 1999, Christina moved to Kosovo and Bosnia after taking a job with Oxfam and stayed for a further four years supporting war refugees.

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In 1999, Christina moved to Kosovo and Bosnia after taking a job with Oxfam and stayed for a further four years supporting war refugees.

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 had served ten years in the army, with tours of Bosnia and Northern Ireland, before training as a Scenes of Crime Officer with the police.

In 2012, Christina met him at a work event. She said to her friend, “I’ve just met the man I’m going to marry.” They did so 18 months later.

Before though, his world had come crashing down. “He’d had flashbacks and nightmares from Bosnia. 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. So, he engaged privately a psychotherapist who used neuro-linguistic psychotherapy (NLP). It shifted his military trauma.”

To date they have helped up to 500 veterans

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. Their initial clinical trials show an 85% success rate for NLP, compared to the NHS’s 35% success rate for CBT. We are mirroring those results.”

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

They’ve been chosen as the delivery agent for the first clinical trials of NLP in the UK with Kings College London and Belfast University. “It is revolutionary. In 10 years, it will completely change the way people look at and hopefully access therapy.”

After it registered as a charity in 2011, its trustees secured a Big Lottery grant of £386k to cover four years. In 2015, when Christina joined, she quickly realised they had no contingency plans. It had three offices, four therapists and company cars.

“We couldn’t stop the haemorrhaging of money.”

By July 2017, they were close to shutting.

That summer, they made everyone redundant except Garreth who went to 40% salary. Christina became Treasurer and started looking at the future from a business perspective.

The only way forward was to open a trading arm. They tapped into the fact the North East is home to 22% of the British Army.

“We have more than the average number of veterans in the area and supporters of the military. So, we took the decision to go down the route of charity shops.”

Key Fund gave 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 five charity shops in the North East, two with therapy centres on the premises. The shop pays for the rent and running costs at the centre.

Key Fund gave a further £100k investment in 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.”

Turnover will be £400,000 this year, with a projected £1m turnover by the end of 2023. They currently employ 31 full and part-time staff.

Trading is more vital than ever. During Covid, the team were successful with grants, but workload 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’s going to explode in terms of the mental health need to those frontline services.”

Without Key Fund, Christina said they wouldn’t have been able to expand.

“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 plan is to have shops and therapy centres in the most prolific armed forces areas in the country. “We’ve ridden the storm, come out the other side and used our time during Covid to expand – we’ve come out of it stronger.”

Funded by Northern Impact Fund and the Regional Growth Fund
Loan: £121,000
Grant: £33,000
EDI Group Lived Life Experience
Supported 87 individuals

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

Christina Murrell


Andy Wilson

Assistant Manager in
the South Shields shop

As a kid, Andy was in the army cadets. He joined the Royal Engineers in 1985, a path he knew he’d take, but problems in his personal life changed the direction.


On tour in Germany, his wife racked up debts on his bank card, then ‘did a runner’. “I lost my wife, my house, in the space of weeks.”

The army paid off his debt, and he took a second job as a bouncer in a squaddie bar to pay them back.

He employed more bouncers as business boomed. Then he was seconded to the Gulf War.

After the war, he left the army to focus on his business. He expanded and qualified as a licence manager, with an ambition to manage his own nightclub. One night, he got into a fight.

“I put a guy in hospital pretty bad, and got arrested.” He lost his job as a licence manager. Then he lost his bouncing contracts, as one of his men sold drugs on the door, tarnishing his reputation.

He took up agency work and remarried in 2014.

“I started drinking heavily, and arguing with my wife and would go missing for days on end. My best pal witnessed an outburst, and said I think you have PTSD.”

Andy dismissed it. A year later, he stormed out after a row, drunk.

“I headed down to Scotswood Bridge, and thought I’m jumping, I can’t deal with this anymore.”

He was stopped at the statue there called, Yesterday, Today, Forever.

“It’s of an old Shire horse with a miner holding the reigns, and on the back of the horse are two children. All I thought of was my kids. If I jumped, I’d never see them again. I was found by the police unconscious, gripping onto the legs of the horse.”

Encouraged by his military pals, he reached out to Veterans at Ease.

“The therapy made things bearable and easier to live with. It totally reprogrammes your way of thinking around trauma.”

The PTSD resulted from his time in Iraq, and trauma from childhood.

“My parents didn’t have a good marriage. They used to run a pub. My dad stood on the flat roof with two knives in his hand, my mother was in the carpark with the police, and dad was threatening them, saying you’re not taking my kids. Eventually, the police stormed the pub and got me to safety and had my dad pinned down, which wasn’t nice to witness as a three-year-old.”

Veterans at Ease offered him a role of Logistics Officer, then assistant manager at the South Shields shop.

“I would be dead if I hadn’t sought their help. They saved my life.”

Andy performed a play of his experience at Scotswood Bridge. “It was one of the most emotional things I’ve had to do.” In the audience was the Mayoress. “After, she saw me and burst into tears. She said, ‘I want to tell you – that statue; I commissioned and paid for it to be built. To hear your story is so moving, I haven’t got words to describe it.”

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