Nigel Seaman is so ebullient and affable, with an infectious enthusiasm for life, that it's hard to imagine him as a man who almost gave up on himself. But this is a story of hope.

Nigel is a military veteran. Ipswich born and bred, he joined the Army at 18, in 1992, a proud infantryman with the Royal Anglian Regiment (The Vikings). He was a resilient young man, trained to operate wherever and whenever the Army needed him, to do whatever was asked of him. Several demanding tours of Northern Ireland and Bosnia during the 1990s were part of the job.

In 2004, with 12 years service behind him, Nigel retired from the armed forces and began a new career as a prison officer. He worked at HMP Warren Hill, before moving to Chelmsford prison, then Wormwood Scrubs, followed by a spell at Isis Prison, next to Belmarsh, in southeast London.

Great British Life: Nigel on ceremonial duties with the Royal Anglians. Nigel on ceremonial duties with the Royal Anglians. (Image: Charlotte Bond)

It was a job he loved, but after major surgery on his shoulder (an old rugby injury), and with a leg injury from his Army years also causing trouble, Nigel was medically retired from the prison service. In 2014, now in his forties, with no career and no clear plan for where life would take him next, his real battles began.

'I started ruminating on what had happened to me,' he says. Although he didn't know it, he was in the grip of post traumatic stress disorder. He suffered depression and anxiety, and experienced flashbacks from an incident during his time on operations with the Army. Every day was a struggle.

'It took over. My life was chaotic, I was gambling,' he says. 'After about a year, I had a breakdown.' The future looked bleak. But a turning point arrived when he was referred to Combat Stress, a charity which provides clinical treatment and support for armed forces veterans, particularly those with complex mental health issues.

Great British Life: Nigel shares experiences at The Coffee Cell, Ipswich. Nigel shares experiences at The Coffee Cell, Ipswich. (Image: Charlotte Bond)

Formally diagnosed with PTSD, Nigel was accepted onto a six-week, residential, trauma related course. Not only was it the start of his recovery, it sowed the seed of an idea that would change the course of his life.

Nigel had always enjoyed good coffee and, since the beverage on offer wasn't quite up to standard, he installed a coffee maker in his room. Other veterans would drop in and they'd get chatting. Coffee, Nigel discovered, was a great conversation starter. It was then that he had the idea for Combat2Coffee. His new purpose in life would be helping others who were battling PTSD, just like he was, and coffee would be the catalyst, providing a vehicle for veterans to talk and open up about their experiences, anxieties and fears.

After he completed the course, Nigel was referred to Help for Heroes for ongoing support. In 2019, he enrolled on a business course with Help for Heroes, to turn his idea into reality. He wanted to give something back to the support network that, he says, saved his life. He wanted to give others hope and purpose, and practical support that would help veterans and their families, just as he'd been helped.

Great British Life: Single estate, fair trade beans for Combat2Coffee. Single estate, fair trade beans for Combat2Coffee. (Image: Charlotte Bond)

However, the stress of his situation had taken its toll on his marriage. Desperate to protect his family, Nigel decided he had to leave home. With nowhere to go, he checked into a hotel, until, with help from Veterans Aid, he found a place to live and pursued his idea.

He found a coffee caravan for sale, bought it with the limited funds available to him, and started doing outreach, going to events, serving coffee, starting important conversations about mental health, sharing his own experiences and offering support and hope. True to his word about supporting others, he bought his coffee from another veteran.

‘It wasn’t good, but people bought into the message,’ he says. Indeed they did; Nigel's first social media post drew 10,000 hits. Word really got out when he appeared on BBC's One Show just before the first Covid lockdown and talked about his own battles, how Combat Stress had helped him and his work with Combat2Coffee.

Since that time, Combat2Coffee has continued to gather momentum. Even an operation in September 2020 to amputate his troublesome leg didn't slow Nigel's energy and drive.

Great British Life: Nigel's goddaughter Molly is part of the Combat2Coffee team.Nigel's goddaughter Molly is part of the Combat2Coffee team. (Image: Charlotte Bond)

He partnered with HMP Hollesley Bay to create a coffee shop and prison-based roastery that supports mental health and employment opportunities for prisoners, ex-veterans, and others struggling with mental health. He's also opened a wellbeing focused coffee shop, The Coffee Cell, in Ipswich. He now has a barista equipped van, painted in Combat2 Coffee's red, white and blue camouflage, which he takes around the county.

In July 2022, in association with Vertas Group, he agreed a five-year partnership with Ipswich Town Football Club to provide hot drinks in hospitality areas and the FanZone at Portman Road, as well as at the Playford Road training ground. It is, he says, 'a fantastic opportunity, not only for veterans and their family members but for Suffolk as a whole'.

Combat2Coffee also supplies the club with their own coffee roast called ‘Cuppa Towen’, and the club partnered with Combat2Coffee on two recent initiatives designed to expand outreach – the 'I’ve Bean Better' campaign, a short video and tool kit on how to hold better conversations with people suffering PTSD, and Medals2Matches.

Great British Life: Medals2Matches - Mark Ashton (ITFC), Nigel Seaman, and Jason Carter (HOAX). Medals2Matches - Mark Ashton (ITFC), Nigel Seaman, and Jason Carter (HOAX). (Image: ITFC)

Last year (2023), Nigel found himself at 10 Downing Street, at the invitation of Ipswich MP Tom Hunt, for a Local Veteran Champions’ Reception, where he met fellow veterans from across the country. The transformation in Nigel is extraordinary, but it's what he's also doing for others that's so impressive.

Nigel considers himself lucky to have got help; it's not the same for everyone. 'All veterans and ex-uniformed services personnel who are struggling with their mental wellbeing should feel confident and safe in getting the support they need,' he says.

But it's not always easy for veterans to acknowledge their problems, or to ask for help. Part of the training for combat is to never let colleagues down, and to not hold others back by needing help. But if military people are not 'untrained' when they leave the services, it can create problems for veterans struggling with past trauma, affecting their mental and physical health. Many miss the camaraderie, community and structure of the services; loneliness and feeling like they're suffering alone, can have disastrous effects.

Some veterans, unable to cope with their changed circumstances, fall foul of the law. They may end up jobless, estranged from family and friends, end up in poverty, homeless even. For some, suicide can be the ultimate way out.

Great British Life: Nigel at the roastery in Ipswich. Nigel at the roastery in Ipswich. (Image: Charlotte Bond)

Nigel doesn't claim to have all the answers. While he has a wealth of personal experience to draw on, he doesn't position himself or Combat2Coffee as experts. 'Because of my journey, I just want veterans and military people to feel safe to get help,' he says. What he can offer is peer support and a bridge to organisations such as Combat Stress, Walking With Wounded, Suffolk Mind, RBL and others who can help people get back on track.

His ambition is to 'change lives one sip at a time’. Coffee, he says, is the opener to a conversation about how someone's life could be different, how they can find a new direction and purpose in life. But as well as the talking there is very practical help, such as introducing people to services they might need, support for mental health and physical wellbeing, jobs, training or housing.

His latest development is creating a training facility at the Combat2 Coffee roastery in west Ipswich, to provide opportunities for veterans to learn barista skills and regain their confidence, helping them to find long term employment and security.

Great British Life: Combat2Coffee beans. Nigel would like his product to be available to all coffee lovers. ';The more business we do the more we can help people', he says. Combat2Coffee beans. Nigel would like his product to be available to all coffee lovers. ';The more business we do the more we can help people', he says. (Image: Charlotte Bond)

In an anxious world, more aware of the importance of looking after our mental health, the potential for Combat2Coffee is immense; indeed, Nigel says it's already reaching out not just to veterans, but other uniformed personnel and the community generally. He'd like to expand the company – it's a not-for-profit CIC – partnering with businesses and organisations that can support the cause by buying coffee supplies, hosting a stand, van or workshop at events, offering work, providing funding or signing up to the Armed Forces Covenant.

To that end, he's just established a non-executive board, whose four directors – entrepreneur and coffee aficionado Paddy Bishopp; Paul Botterill, ex-Royal Navy and part of The Not Forgotten veterans charity; Darren McGrath, Tiptree Patisserie managing director; and Will Anderson MBE, former Army officer – who will provide support, advice and future direction.

He wants to make Combat2Coffee available to people and hospitality businesses who simply enjoy premium quality coffee – single sourced, sustainably traced and expertly roasted to the unique C2C blend. 'Roasted, toasted and poured by veterans.'

Great British Life: Nigel wants to get Combat2Coffeeinto workplaces. Nigel wants to get Combat2Coffeeinto workplaces. (Image: Charlotte Bond)

'We’re very open about what we do,' he says. 'These past few years have been incredibly exciting for Combat2Coffee, and it's amazing to see how many veterans and families we've helped as a result of our work.

'We just want people to access help and support. And the more business we do, the more we can help people.'

For more information or download the Combat2Coffee app from the app store.