IN dark days of the Great War, little was understood about the psychological scars – "the hidden wounds" – of the soldiers who returned home to Britain.
Physical wounds were there for all to see but the mental suffering of surviving servicemen went unseen and untreated.
UNSEEN WOUNDS: Durham Light Infantry men during the First World War - when the mental impact of war was unappreciated
Understanding and care has come a long way in 100 years. In September last year, the £10.7m purpose-built Phoenix House was opened at Catterick Garrison. It is the only Help For Heroes recovery centre in the North of England, providing vital support to wounded and sick servicemen, women, veterans and their families.
Since September, hundreds of residents have been supported with courses, activities, welfare and transitional advice to help them on the road to recovery.
MODEL SOLDIER: One of the soldiers on the catwalk at Phoenix House
Last December, I was asked to compere a fashion show aimed at raising the profile of the centre. Professional models were joined on the catwalk by Army veterans, and their partners, who had been cared for at Phoenix House.
Some were amputees, some were in wheelchairs, some had suffered great mental trauma. All of them were heroes. It was a moving, inspirational occasion.
That was where the seeds were sown for the “£100,000 For 100 Years” appeal. Soldiers who had been physically injured or psychologically damaged had gained new confidence, by preparing to perform at a fashion show. Who would have thought, at the time of the First World War, that catwalk teamwork would be a source of therapy?
The Help For Heroes charity – founded just six years ago – is always looking for new ways to help those whose lives have changed as a result of serving their country.
It was the experience of that fashion that made Phoenix House manager Mo Usman realise the wider benefits of performing music and theatre.
Initial plans for a Sportsplex next door to the current building were quickly redrawn, turning it into a Wellbeing Centre, incorporating a stage, lighting and PA equipment as well as a sports hall, target practice and archery lanes, massage rooms and consultation rooms for individuals suffering with psychological issues.
“The positive impact on those taking part in our inaugural fashion show was evident to every member of the audience. Not only did they thoroughly enjoy being in the limelight but the boost in personal confidence that it gave individuals has never left them, even six months on,” said Mr Usman.
“It was very apparent to all centre staff that this was an aspect of support that should be introduced on a more regular basis. The creation of a dedicated performing area in our new building will enable us to deliver this.
“We couldn’t have a more appropriate partner than the Northern Echo to help us achieve this. Money raised through the paper’s appeal would be used for the provision of a stage, curtains, lighting, PA equipment, and other essential items that will enable Help for Heroes to support veterans through creative arts.
“There has been a paradigm shift in public understanding and attitude towards the psychological impact of war. One hundred years ago, there was little understanding of hidden wounds, and certainly no support for those suffering from it.
“The Echo’s campaign is testimony to this change and embracing it is a fantastic way for people of the North East to support the region’s heroes and mark the centenary of the First World War at the same time.”
HOW YOU CAN HELP
TO contribute to the appeal, click here to open the appeal form. Print out the form, complete it and send the form to us along with a cheque for the amount you would like to contribute.
Please make cheques out to “Help For Heroes” and attach them to this form to ensure that the money is directed to Phoenix House.
Send them to “Help For Heroes, Northern Echo Appeal, Phoenix House Recovery Centre, Richmond Road, Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire, DL9 3AW.
If you want to discuss a fundraising event, call Debbie Calgie at Phoenix House on 01748 834148.