Meet our staff
Our small team of salaried staff and volunteer mentors are often often drawn from those that have been through some of our programmes and activities.
Tony Wright (Chief Executive)
Tony Wright, Founder & Chief Executive of Forward Assist joined the Royal Marines in 1978 and medically discharged in 1981 after seriously injuring his shoulder during basic training. As an Early Service Leaver (ESL) he has firsthand knowledge of how difficult it is for many former servicemen and women to re-establish themselves back into the civilian community after discharge from the Armed Forces. He is particularly supportive of those veterans that suffer from Post Traumatic Stress or other difficulties relating to adjustment and assimilation.
After leaving the Armed Forces he was technically homeless and unemployed for some time before returning to the education system to gain appropriate qualifications so that he could re-train in an occupation of his choice. He has worked in a range of statutory and voluntary welfare settings, qualifying as a Social Worker in 1996. His experience includes Senior Management roles in Residential Care settings, Community Support Outreach Teams, and the Intensive Supervision and support of Prolific and Priority Adult Offenders in both the Probation Service and the voluntary sector. More recently he worked as a Home Office Advisor based within Government Office North East and whilst working in the Homeless sector develop numerous innovative interventions for Adults Facing Chronic Exclusion that are now recognised as best practice.
Tony sits on several groups that specialise in meeting the currently ‘un-met’ needs of veterans in the Criminal Justice System. He has had several articles published in specialist periodicals and in recent years he travelled to the USA for a 6 week period as part of a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship to research ‘compare and contrast’ the services available to US veterans and those in the UK. He has since established a Veterans Exchange Programme with the USA and teams of Veterans from both countries have taken part in this cultural exchange. Tony is currently campaigning for the introduction of Veterans Treatment Courts into the UK Criminal Justice System and has advised Politicians, Magistrates, and Government Officials on this matter.
Colin Hutchinson (Operations Director)
Colin Hutchinson is a former Warrant Officer who served for 22 years in the Royal Engineers. Before becoming the Operations Manager for Forward Assist he was the Business Manager for NECA, an organisation providing substance misuse services across the North East region.
"Having made the transition back to civilian life myself. I am acutely aware of the need to use my personal experiences and skill to support those that do not find the transition easy. It alarms me that so many veterans require support from specialist social care organisations on their return to the UK. Especially as the true cause of their difficulties can be related to their past combat experiences whilst serving in many of the operational theatres across the globe. As the Operational Manager of Forward Assist I am able to make a small but significant difference for those in need."
Steve Jackson (Volunteer)
Steve served in the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers for twelve years. After he left the military he had a very successful career as a financial advisor. He is now volunteering as our minibus driver after retiring from his position as Office Manager in February 2016.
“After a long working life I suffered a stroke in 2003 and was subsequently pensioned off from my job as a financial advisor with the Co-op Insurance Company. Unable to work I spent a lot of time on my own and as such my mind wandered back to times long gone, especially my time in the army and in particular my service in Aden 1966/67.I started to have nightmares about some of my experiences and found great difficulty discussing these matters with anyone. The flashbacks prevented me from sleeping due to the fact that I lost nine good friends in one day in Aden, one of whom was my best mate, I felt very guilty as it was a day when I should have been out on patrol with them. I eventually sought help from my GP and one of the psychiatric nurses put me in contact with Combat Stress who operated out of the offices of Forward Assist. I was referred to Forward assist and joined the ‘peer led’ support group specifically for veterans and I soon joined in with the other activities provided by Forward Assist such as Fishing, Cooking, and Photography all of which were completely free to me! After enjoying these sessions for over a year, I was asked by the CEO if I would be interested in volunteering my services to the charity. I jumped at the chance to start giving something back and ran the office for over a year before being offered a full time post .The benefit to me is that this work has kept my mind occupied and I help other veterans on a daily basis, as such I no longer suffer from the awful flashbacks remorse or isolation that I had felt for years. So far I have travelled to Holland, France and America with the charity and it has changed my life. THANK YOU for without your help I wouldn't be here!”
Neil Tully (Business Development Administrator)
Neil joined the Corps of Royal Engineers in 1996 and served in Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Falkland Islands, Iraq, Afghanistan, Germany and Cyprus. His service was cut short after sustaining a back injury in 2005 and was eventually medically discharged in 2012. His Twitter account is @NTForwardAssist.
“After 16 years of living away from the North East I thought it was high time that I got myself and my family moved back home. I didn’t expect to have to be declared ‘homeless’ before the council would treat my application with any priority. Luckily it only took three months to get my first job at PC World after numerous applications and a few interviews. I left there after six months as my application for Tesco General Management was successful after a lengthy recruitment process. I enjoyed almost a year as an Electrical & Entertainment Manager for Tesco but decided that after spending so much time away from my family while in the Army, Tesco was proving to be absorbing more and more of my time. It was through The Poppy Factory that I was introduced to Tony and Colin in December 2013 and I was inspired by the enthusiasm and drive they have to ensure that all former Service personnel, regardless of time served or cap badge, get the best service possible for a successful transition to be self-sustainable in Civvy Street. I am looking forward to the challenges and rewards ahead.”
Chris Pretty (Mountain Leader)
I first met Tony when we joined the Royal Marines in March 1978. We immediately started a keen friendship whilst in the Troop being very similar in our views. This friendship continued when we were placed into Chosin Troop, the rehabilitation troop, after we were both injured during the training. Unfortunately we were split up when I returned to training and Tony stayed in Chosin still rehabilitating after his terrible shoulder injury. I left training and left our friendship for a while. I served as a Section 2ic in 40 Commando in the Falklands in 1982 and had some significant experiences which have never left me. On leaving the Royal Marines and after several years I started a Veterans Association specifically for Falkland Veterans. At this time Rick Jolly and Denzil Connick were starting SAMA 82 and on advice from Julian Thompson and their Board I threw in with them and became their Chairman for a term. This Association is an excellent environment for individuals to make sense of their experiences without being confronted by 'the system'. I strongly believe there is much work to be done for those who suffer from their experiences during service, and I am very aware that you need not have had to see combat to be affected by this.
Then, out of the blue, Tony arrived again. What a day! We spoke for hours having not spoken for 34 years and found again that we had very similar ideas. I am absolutely in awe of what Tony is doing for the former service community. I am almost unable to express myself due to this awe, but I am absolutely sure that his service to others should be recognised by a greater audience. If we had more men like him the former military community would be in a much healthier state. Helping others is at the heart of the military ethos and is clearly exemplified by Tony and Forward Assist Veteran Support Charity. Supporting the Veterans of Her Majesties Armed Forces is a subject which engenders controversy from the halls of Government to the backrooms of the MOD and requires an altruistic individual to stand up and be counted in order for a difference to be made.
The myth that the Royal British Legion can solve our contemporary issues within the services is, in my opinion, outdated and unattractive to the modern service person who finds it a difficult process to engage with when already suffering from the trauma of service life and/or battle conditions. This also goes for other high profile modern charities. These all help our retired personnel in their own way but there is a piece of the jigsaw missing. The piece is for true, local, easy to access, honourable and trustworthy people to take up the baton and help their local people overcome the demons of service. This has been done exceptionally well by Tony and Forward Assist.Some may say that long service is required to understand the military system but through experience I have found this to be quite un-true. Some of our best service personnel served short and intense periods and have become casualties of the system and have then become casualties of the CJS, this is where Tony comes in. Traditionally this area has been ‘poo-pooed’ by the higher echelons of military society but it is a fact and we need people to help these individuals who have been failed by the very system they served.
I believe Tony has contributed to the former-service community in a unique and positive way and I hope that this will be recognised by others. An honourable man working for honourable people.