Activate Award winner Tony Wright: supporting women veterans into civilian life

"I am delighted to receive this funding from WCMT. Women veterans are in many ways a 'hidden population'. Our goal is to create a dedicated service for women veterans, whilst simultaneously raising awareness of the unique issues that impact upon women as they transition back to civilian life from all three armed services." - Tony Wright, Fellow 

The problem

Approximately 10% of the UK Armed Forces are women. They serve in a predominately male environment and yet few dedicated services exist to help women veterans cope with life after service.

Women veterans have unique health care needs compared with their male counterparts. A recent research paper from Tony Wright’s charity Forward Assist presented a series of in-depth interviews with 100 women veterans. Many voiced concerns about the lack of gender specific mental health and employment support available to them after service.

Several made reference to ill-fitting body armour that was designed for men. Not only were these essential items of kit uncomfortable, but they put them at risk from serious physical injury as they were not designed for women.

Similarly a disproportionate number of women reported that they had direct experience of what is known in other countries as Military Sexual Trauma (MST). As defined by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, MST refers to experiences of sexual assault or repeated threatening sexual harassment that a veteran has experienced during his or her military service. Such traumatic experiences can lead to feelings of hopelessness, powerlessness, self-isolation, depression and suicidal ideation.

The Activate award

Veterans champion Tony Wright (CF 2011) has been given a grant from the Activate Fund to develop a gender specific charity and dedicated support service, for women veterans transitioning back to civilian life. The grant will allow him to champion the rights of women veterans by creating a dedicated women-only charity aiming to raise awareness of the long term impact caused by service-related trauma. He will also develop practical information and training materials and share these with other services and organisations. Finally, Tony is planning an international women veterans conference to showcase best practice from around the world.

"The Activate Fund will allow us to open up a new front in gender specific support and we look forward to recognising and celebrating the contribution of women service personnel, past and present" - Tony Wright, Fellow     

The award recipient

Ex-serviceman Tony is the Founder and CEO of Forward Assist, a charity that provides support and guidance to former servicemen and women who experience difficulties in adjusting to a new life as a civilian. In 2011 Tony was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to travel to the USA to investigate resettlement and support services available to former service personnel, before and after their return to civilian life. On returning to the UK, he set up Forward Assist.

Since his Fellowship, Tony has developed numerous innovative interventions for veterans struggling to adjust to life after service. In a social work career spanning 34 years, many of Forward Assist’s interventions are now recognised as best practice.

Forward Assist has long campaigned for gender-specific mental health support for women veterans. In 2017, Forward Assist was awarded funding by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to develop a specific service for women veterans. The ‘Salute Her’ programme came to being in 2018 and has, via a series of consultation groups, identified significant gaps in the services available to women veterans. It has attempted to fill those gaps by conducting pioneering ethnographic research, providing women-only group activities and one-to-one consultation sessions, peer-led support groups and residential retreats.

The Activate Fund

Tony’s award is a grant from the Activate Fund. This is a new programme from WCMT which supports the activation or acceleration of Churchill Fellows’ projects. It provides dedicated funds, advice and support during the key period when Fellows first return from their research overseas, and start to make change happen in the UK.

The Activate Fund is a three-year pilot project, making its first grants in 2020. The Activate grants total £101,000, making an average grant of £14,400. The scheme has been developed in consultation with Fellows, to respond to their practical needs.

View Tony Wright's profile 

Fellows wishing to apply can find out more in the Fellows’ area of our website.

Find out more about the Activate Fund

Read Tony's report