Anne and Jelena first met through Disaster Action, a charity founded in 1991 by and for bereaved and survivors of UK disasters that has its own remarkable story ~ Collective Conviction: The Story of Disaster Action. Anne is a survivor of the Hillsborough Disaster (1989) and Jelena is a bereaved family member from the September 11 attacks (2001). Here is their story:
‘Strange as it sounds, one of the things that drove each of us to join Disaster Action was the instinctive wish to meet other people who understood what it is like to have experienced disaster first hand.
Despite so many different disasters and unique stories these new friends acknowledged the impact and depth of our own experiences without us having to tell the whole story. It was - and still is each time we meet - very much a given, an implicit understanding and respect, as is the sense of mutual support, acceptance and validation of our feelings and experiences.
Over the years we have met many individuals and families representing the collective personal experience of dozens of disasters as bereaved people and survivors. Meeting others like us who have been directly affected by collective tragedy has given us deeper insight and appreciation of the consequences of complex loss, grief and trauma and what helps.
We have witnessed first hand how recovery from collective trauma can take place only within the context of relationships; it cannot occur in isolation. Being members and executive officers of Disaster Action not only enabled us to heal but also drove both of us to want to redirect our professional knowledge and skills towards helping others.’
Anne refocussed her career as a sociologist to specialise as a consultant in disaster planning and management, with particular emphasis on the psychosocial aspects of disaster and addressing the needs of people. Jelena consolidated and extended her expertise as a practising psychotherapist to include a specialism in disaster trauma, terrorism and homicide.
Over the last 20 years they have worked professionally in the fields of trauma, emergencies and disaster management helping planners, policy makers and practitioners understand and mitigate the impacts of collective trauma events. They have worked in the aftermath of incidents as diverse as the Boxing Day tsunami (2004), the July 7 bombings (2005), the Shoreham air crash (2015) and the Grenfell Fire (2017).
Having personally benefitted from well managed peer support they also wanted to pay forward such opportunities to others. They have helped initiate, manage and deliver a number of national bespoke, facilitated peer support group programmes including the British Red Cross Tsunami Support Network (2004-2005) which was praised by the National Audit Office as a good model for use in the future and the Manchester Attack Support Group programme (2018-2021).
Today the Centre for Collective Trauma brings together a unique team of specialists with diverse backgrounds as researchers, practitioners and therapists, and a record of professional and personal experience covering more than 30 years. They offer those dealing with disaster a unique range of skills and multidisciplinary expertise across emergency planning, crisis response and crisis communications, humanitarian assistance, trauma therapy and post-disaster support services. The starting point for all of this is a fundamental commitment to understanding and supporting people.
‘Just as despair can come to one only from other human beings,
hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings’