The Contact Group (‘Contact’) is the UK collaboration of statutory and non-statutory organisations, including charity, academic and professional bodies, working together on military mental health priorities encompassing policy, treatment and research. Contact also acts as the mental health cluster for Cobseo, the Confederation of Service Charities. As well as core Contact members, a number of Contact associate, research associate and partner organisations also engage with the work of the group. Membership of the group and engagement by member and other organisations in its collaborative work is entirely voluntary.
Work on Contact Group projects is made possible through the participation of members and other organisations in its different workstreams, as well as support from a number of partner organisations. Operational costs are currently funded for 2020 and 2021 through the generous support of the Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT). The Contact website is funded for the period 2020-2022 through the kind support of the Veterans’ Foundation. The group is hosted for financial and administrative purposes for the period 2020-2022 by Contact member Combat Stress.
A brief history of the group’s evolution is below. If you would like further information, or would like to provide feedback on Contact work or this website, please email Anna Owen, Contact project officer on: email@example.com
Photo credit: Walking With The Wounded
History of Contact
In 2015 ‘The Veterans’ Mental Health Round Table’ was formed by the Help for Heroes’ Director of Recovery, David Richmond. It aimed to improve collaboration among mental health providers to the veteran community. It was an informal group that gathered momentum as time went on.
In 2016 the ‘Heads Together’ mental health campaign was launched by the Royal Foundation of Princes William and Harry, together with eight charity partners. The opportunity to join Heads Together provided the catalyst for the Round Table to relaunch itself under a new name. The initial focus was guidance for veterans and their families, a strategy championed by Prince Harry. In fact, the name itself was suggested by the Prince (reflecting the use of the word ‘Contact’ in combat settings as well as its more obvious inferred offer of guidance).
Initial membership was weighted towards the third sector and comprised Combat Stress, Help for Heroes, Walking with the Wounded, the Royal British Legion, the Big White Wall, COBSEO, Veterans NHS Wales, Veterans First Point, Kings College London, Royal College of Psychiatrists, NHS England, and MoD.
David Richmond was appointed the first Chair.
Photo credit: Crown copyright
Significant donations had been raised by Heads Together, and some of these were allocated by the Royal Foundation to the administrative costs of the new collaboration. A part-time project officer was seconded from Help for Heroes from 2016.
In 2018, Charles Winstanley took over from David as Chair. A new Project Officer, Anna Owen, was recruited in 2019 and in 2020 Contact’s funding source moved from the Royal Foundation to the Forces in Mind Trust.
Pro-bono administration of Contact’s finance and HR was provided by Help for Heroes until late 2019, when the provision moved to Combat Stress.
From 2018 the strategic focus of Contact moved from an ambition to deal directly with veterans to one of liaison within the UK military mental health sector; at the same time the membership focus of the group moved from charities to embrace all providers, policy makers and researchers as equal members (rather than attendees at a meeting of charities). The need to incorporate all four nations was underscored by the inclusion of representatives from Northern Ireland and Scotland. From 2019 it was determined that a broader ‘family’ of charities active in veterans’ mental health (but for whom it may not be core business) could apply to be Contact associates.
Contact has now matured as the focal point for the development of military mental health policy, treatments and research in the four nations of the UK.
Chair and Staff
Dr Charles Winstanley became the independent Chair of Contact in Sept 2018. The UK Academy of Medical Royal Colleges appointed him Chair in 2016 and again in 2019. He also chairs the military sub-committee of the Cabinet Office Honours, Decorations and Medals Committee. Prior to these roles, Charles served on Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital board for two terms, then chaired NHS Lothian, the UK’s second largest health system (during which time he also served as Chair of Scotland’s NHS Chairs). He has also been a non-executive director at the Ministry of Defence and the Scottish Government.
Trained at Sandhurst and Staff College, Charles was a regular soldier with an armoured reconnaissance regiment in Northern Ireland, West Germany, and the Middle East. In later territorial service he commanded armoured recce units based in London and Belfast, and was then on the MoD staff. After manufacturing and communications roles, he ran his own strategy consultancy for 18 years. Charles has masters and doctoral degrees in business management from Henley Business School.
Contact Project Officer
Anna Owen joined Contact as Project Officer in June 2019. Prior to this she coordinated a cross-sector collaborative membership network for organisations working in international development from 2017-19. She has spent most of her career in the foreign policy and international development sectors, working for a combination of think tanks and charities/NGOs, including in events and projects management for prominent London-based think tanks for a period of over 12 years. She has a MSc in Development and Security and a BSc in Politics and International Relations, both from the University of Southampton.