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Living archive project launches with Age Exchange thanks to funding from National Lottery

Veterans at Combat Stress circa 1970s

Living archive project launches

Thanks to funding from the National Lottery, veterans’ mental health charity Combat Stress is commemorating its centenary by partnering with reminiscence arts charity Age Exchange to capture the voices of military veterans with mental health problems.

The anniversary project, Combat Stress – 100, will see 100 interviews filmed with veterans. They will share their stories of serving in the military, the impact on their mental health, and the specialist treatment and support provided by Combat Stress. This unique project has been made possible by a significant award of £98,300 from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The living archive will be part of a multimedia exhibition that will tour the UK later this year. On display at community locations such as museums and rugby clubs, it will create awareness of veterans’ mental health, the development of mental health treatment over the century and the important role Combat Stress has played in supporting veterans since the charity was founded in 1919.

At the time thousands of servicemen who returned from the First World War with shell shock received little or no sympathy from the public. Many were locked away indefinitely in war hospitals and asylums, while others suffered in silence at home.

The founders of Combat Stress believed that veterans could be helped to cope with their mental health problems through rehabilitation. They began fundraising to introduce residential homes where veterans could live and work, helping them to start rebuilding their lives. Our founders believed that veterans should have their psychological injuries acknowledged and treated, receive nursing care and hold down jobs to support their families and lead fulfilling lives. 

Over time Combat Stress developed its services, evolving to meet the changing needs of veterans. Today the charity receives more than 2,000 new referrals each year and provides a range of free services at their treatment centres and through regional community teams.

Sue Freeth, Chief Executive of Combat Stress, said: “We’re very excited to be partnering with Age Exchange for what is an invaluable opportunity to share the stories of veterans and their families who will convey in their own words the impact of living with military-related mental health. By creating a living archive of veterans’ stories, as well as those of their loved ones, we aim to further reduce the barrier to seeking help and increase the public understanding and respect for the impact on individual’s lives.”

David Savill, Artistic Director of Age Exchange, said: “We are absolutely delighted to be working in partnership with Combat Stress during its centenary year. Age Exchange is honored to be working with veterans and their families to create a nationwide project which will enable the UK public to learn about and engage in the remarkable history of the charity and its groundbreaking work supporting military veterans for 100 years.

“Age Exchange comes to Combat Stress 100 having delivered two National Lottery funded projects as part of the First World War Centenary programme. Projects in the UK and in Germany explored the theme of the legacy of war in families, working with British and German children and grandchildren of First World War combatants. Both projects and the learning from them have played a key part in the thinking behind Combat Stress 100 and the partnership between our organisations. Combat Stress and Age Exchange would like to thank The National Lottery Heritage Fund for funding Combat Stress 100.”