On 18 November 1987 a wooden escalator at King's Cross station burst into flames. The intense fire resulted in 30 deaths; 14 survivors suffered flame burns. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Dr Michael Brough took on the role of lead surgeon. As he helped his patients weather the physical and psychological trauma of the disaster, he quickly realised that burn survivors needed better treatments and support.
Driven by his realisation, Brough started the Phoenix Appeal in 1988. The aim of the Appeal was to raise money which would fund the establishment of the first university department of plastic and reconstructive surgery at University College London.
Brough kept pushing. He knew that changing how people with disfiguring conditions were treated needed national buy-in. The turning point came in 1998 when Brough brought his vision of the future to his fellow Trustees in the British Association of Plastic Surgeons (now known as BAPRAS). He persuaded BAPRAS to establish The Healing Foundation. This new organisation would champion the cause of people living with disfigurement by funding pioneering research into surgical and psychological healing techniques.
Everyone at the table knew that BAPRAS could not, and should not, lead The Healing Foundation alone. Other professional bodies agreed to join, who soon became known as the Partner Member Organisations. These included BAAPS, the BBA, the BSSH, and the Craniofacial Society of Great Britain and Ireland and the British Psychological Society.
The Healing Foundation's first appeal was a huge success. With money raised and research interest piqued, the charity started funding projects across the country:
- The Picker Institute Europe conducted a significant research project (valued at £170,000 over three years) to evaluate high-quality patient information about disfigurement.
- The Appearance Research Collective, led by Professor Nichola Rumsey at the University of the West of England's Centre for Appearance Research, received a £500,000 grant over three years. This UK-wide collaboration of clinical and health psychologists delved into coping and resilience among individuals affected by disfiguring conditions.
- The Healing Foundation Centre at the University of Manchester established the Chair of Tissue Regeneration, comprising 40 researchers investigating wound healing and tissue regeneration in various animal models. This £5 million grant over 10 years, with an additional £7.3 million matched by the University of Manchester, led to significant publication successes, including a paper in Nature.
- The Cleft Collective, a nationally networked research program at the University of Manchester, focused on cleft and craniofacial anomalies. With a grant value of £5 million over five years and substantial matched funding from host partners, it represented the largest single investment in cleft research in the UK. The program aimed to explore causes, long-term outcomes, and optimal treatments for children born with cleft.
- The Burns Collective, a collaborative research program driven from two sites - the Children's Burns Research Centre and the Centre for Burn Injury Studies - received a £3.7 million grant over five years. Operating at various universities and hospitals, this initiative explored a range of burns research topics, including acute care, the systemic response to major burns, and a pioneering scalds prevention program.
- A £500,000 grant over 5 years established the BSSH Centre for Evidence Based Hand Surgery at the University of Nottingham
- Over 12 years, more than £1 million has gone to an ongoing programme of fellowships, bursaries and student elective awards.
By 2015, it was time to take a step back. The Foundation reflected on previous research work and workshopped future priorities. Inspired by 'big questions' posed by BAPRAS and Partner Member Organisations, the team settled on a new mission - achieve scar free healing within a generation.
Galvanised by this new call-to-action, the Foundation launched a comprehensive scientific and clinical research programme with two main aims: pioneer scar-free treatment options for the future, and transform the lives of those grappling with disfiguring conditions today.
In July 2016, the charity became The Scar Free Foundation. Working with eminent research academics and clinicians, SFF published a detailed research strategy. This document laid out the key research themes, and emphasised the importance of collaboration. It was a leap towards a future where scars would no longer dictate the narrative of healing.
Today, the Scar Free Foundation continues to flourish in: