Every cloud is supposed to have a silver lining. Even a cloud as tragic and dramatic as the Bradford City fire which killed 56 people at Valley Parade on May 11, 1985.
The horrors of that spring afternoon spawned a business idea which has gone on to pioneer techniques to help people cope with traumas of many kinds.
The Centre for Crisis Psychology (CCP) was launched by former social worker Michael Stewart, who led the award-winning Bradford Council emergency response team which spent around two years counselling the bereaved and survivors of the Bradford City fire.
He saw an opportunity to offer expertise to UK businesses, and in 1989 launched CCP from his home near Skipton.
Michael has now retired and the business is led by one of his twin daughters, managing partner Anna Chapman, who paid tribute to her father’s foresight.
She said: “Being involved in the aftermath of the Bradford City fire really affected my father. It was difficult work but he felt he could replicate what had been achieved after the disaster to help UK businesses support their people by taking the clinic into the workplace.
“The key thing he learned was that you have to be pro-active. If you wait for someone to phone a helpline, go to a drop-in centre or put their hand up to say they need assistance, you’ll be waiting a long time. That sets CCP apart from most other agencies in this field. It’s an area which we have pioneered and has been the basis of our continued progress.”
Michael was joined by former local authority forensic psychologist Peter Hodgkinson, who had helped survivors of the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise cross-channel ferry in 1987. They forged a new way of working with traumatised people and CCP has since responded to more than 6,800 traumatic incidents, written more than 12,000 psychological reports and trained thousands of people.
Among the disasters which required its expertise was the Piper Alpha oil rig tragedy 25 years ago last Saturday, which left 167 men dead after a series of explosions ripped through the platform 120 miles off the coast of Aberdeen.
CCP was among the first responders following the explosions.
“As one of the first specialists to arrive in Aberdeen, we dealt with setting up the response team, managing press conferences on behalf of social services and acting as consultants to senior on-shore management. We also agreed a programme of training and supervision for the response team and provided informal advice when required,” said Anna.
She added: “One of the aspects unique to Piper Alpha was that many of the bereaved lived long distances from Aberdeen, which limited the opportunity for personal trauma care.
So that they did not feel isolated or neglected, we helped set up a newsletter which acted as a vital link to keep them fully informed with developments, as well as providing a general support mechanism.”
News that Scotland Yard may have new evidence in the case of toddler Madeleine McCann, who disappeared while on holiday in Portugal in 2007, recalls another headline-grabbing case in which CCP consultants counselled her distraught parents, Gerry and Kate McCann.
The firm has supported victims of many high-profile traumatic events, including the disasters at Lockerbie and Hillsborough, the July 7 London bombings and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Today, partners Anna Chapman, Alan Pike and Kevin Tasker run CCP from its head office at Broughton Hall, near Skipton, with Alan and Kevin travelling to wherever they are needed in the UK and around the world. Anna’s twin sister Katie Fox manages the IT and is the first point of contact for clients.
Anna said CCP had built its reputation and worldwide reach on the quality of its counselling, and providing a structured approach based on the needs of the individuals.
CCP is also contracted by several leading companies to provide support for employees and, in some cases, customers.
She said: “No two incidents are the same, so the bespoke nature of our approach is also its underlying strength. Following a traumatic event there is only one chance to respond and that must be perfectly timed and clinically appropriate. We don’t outsource any of our support and only use our own specially-trained consultants to ensure unrivalled consistency.
“A major incident can happen at any time, anywhere in the world, so CCP staff are always on call and ready to respond. Our trained practitioners have a suitcase packed and are ready to go anywhere in the world, whenever we are needed.”
The company has worked with banks and building societies. whose staff face the possible threat of raids; travel firms, where its expertise has helped both staff and customers following incidents; logistics, retailers, several rail operators and public sector organisations both in the UK and internationally.
Anna says the psychological care of company employees is now given much greater importance, compared to 25 years ago. More businesses recognise that providing support for staff helps their bottom line by helping to get employees back to work more quickly following an incident.
“Trauma and psychological problems following major incidents were often swept under the carpet, with those affected expected to simply pull themselves together and get on with it.
“Now there is far more evidence of the traumatic affects of major incidents and the benefits to the individual and the company of providing perfectly timed and clinically-appropriate trauma care,” she said.