The Story of Unload

By Mike Payne, Founder



The Seed Idea

Unload grew from a seed on a walk down a green lane in November 2011.

I wondered what support was being offered to those returning from recent conflicts. As I did this phrase came to mind; “I am curious about art as a catalyst in the healing of those involved in conflict and in broader reconciliation post conflict.


What followed was two years of research, including being the first serviceman to work on the leading ex-forces mental health helpline . Key findings were firstly that there is a significant gap in service provision, engagement and process for those affected by trauma. Secondly a new organisation was needed to develop a new style of operation and package of methodology based around coaching (rather than focus on art as a catalyst).

The aim was to be inclusive and provide the highest quality emotional support for people living with the hidden wounds of war.  A social enterprise fitted the organisational need best to enable it to become self-supporting over time.

The Initial Years

The initial website was launched in March 2012 and Unload was formally constituted in August 2013.

  • Motto We help you, you help yourself, you help others.
  • Mission - For you to be on your feet, in balance, self-reliant.
  • Vision - To be a self-supporting organisation providing our own style of support and develop a network of trained Unload Coach. This will create a self-supporting community; ‘the tribe supporting the tribe.’

“Solutions of any sort are much more effective and long lasting when they have been built by the people in need of them.”   Mike Payne, Founder of Unload.

In 2014 the support team and organisational framework was formed and seed funding sourced. In 2015 we delivered a successful action research pilot for residential workshops and focused on the armed forces family. This validated the methodology (see below) and identified Unload needed to create a new route to market. Part of the external recognition Unload received was being invited to present at a Regional NHS conference on how we supported our beneficiaries with multiple and complex needs.

Over 2016 and 2017 more funding was achieved to develop the support programme, extend the outreach activities, engaged the beneficiaries ‘the Tribe’ in planning (co-production) and we began to sell our services. The support proved effective, measurable and provided a choice for people who find other approaches did not work for them. Initially most referrals came via word of mouth based upon the reputation Unload earned amongst its beneficiaries.

“Amazing, brilliant, supportive, friendly, non judgmental. Truly an organisation that sees you and where you are

Moral Injury

Some find mental health labels like ‘PTSD’ unhelpful, particularly when you feel like you soul has been ripped apart.

Moral Injury is a label used (initially after Vietnam) when combatants see, experience and witness events which contradict their own values.


Unloading is a poem written by Mark Hall during a break at an Unload residential weekend in March 2015.

It was a challenge with limited capacity to generate grant funding while also meeting the needs of our beneficiaries and develop the organisation.

Part of the challenge was communicating  that while Unload focused on the armed forces family it was also inclusive. Concurrently the methodology and ethos was very different to other support available and how to present waht we did simply was elusive.

It was also a challenge for many that 'Unload' did not mean 'Reload'.

During this period there was notable contraction in mental health services, both NHS and for the ex-military. As word of our support spread Unload had referrals from the Prof Steven Regal of the Nottingham Trauma Centre, NHS Veteran Liaison, ex-military partner charities, from drug and from rehabilitation agencies and as an active member of the NHS Nottingham Veterans & Families Partnership.  Towards the end of 2017 referrals increasingly from private counselling and mental health agencies.


Geographically support spread from the Nottinghamshire base across the East Midlands; delivery focused on three areas:


  • Outreach. Much time was spent reaching those who are self isolating, feel excluded or who may have fallen through the net. Unload meets people on their own terms;  we call this meeting people ‘where they are at’.
  • Individual Support.  Through a variety of formal and informal support Unload develops individual self-management, confidence and resilience. The approach is flexible and patient and those supported have the time to get to know Unload and ‘the tribe’.
  • Residential Weekends.  For connection and where emotional work was done in a safe, strong space and integrated with the other support


“This time last year I was a wreck of a man. Now I feel guided on a path I really like.”


In 2018 Unload started the year developing the Advocacy programme and so starting the structured training for the third cycle of the motto: ‘you help others’.


“Unload has helped me more than I could ever think possible.”


In March 2018, almost 6 years to the day since I launched the first Unload website, I stood down from Unload. This was a difficult decision influenced by the deterioration in my wife's health and because I could not pursuade the board to adher to the principles I espoused.  This decision was made knowing that there was funding and external support package in place and the Unload team were keen to take the helm and responsibility.

The reality is that the initail aims were acheived and that the coaching package was extremely effective in a field normally reserved for mental health practictioners.


I left with deep thanks to all who have been involved in Unload, for the journey travelled together, for all the laughter and the tears, for the profound commitment to Unload from supporters, funders, volunteers, the beneficiaries and the ideals it served. Here is a text sent after I left, a thought which I will carry forward into my future work:


"Your idea was an oasis of hope in a desert of no hope. The drinking fountain that proved to be an elixir for those abandoned in the wilderness by the system."


The Unload methodology was based upon the coaching principle that we are all creative, resourceful and whole. Within this is the theory of change.


Alongside coaching the full package of methodology included:

  • Practical mindfulness (Qi Gong)
  • Working with nature (eco-psychology)
  • Using the felt senses (somatic practices)
  • Kinaesthetic and experiential learning.
  • And humour!

This provided the basis for the safe, effective and measureable support and was applied with an understanding of Systemic Constellations, practice derived from the work of Bert Hellinger.

 We are all creative, resourceful and whole.

Postscript: Regrettably the board were persuaded to move away from the proven ethos and methodology and move away from coaching. This resulted in the board contracting and disconnection with the Unload tribe.

Rather than accept an offer to hand over control, in August 2018 Unload was rebranded. In October 2018 the last board members voted to cease trading and to return any remaining grant money.

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