Northamptonshire Royal British Legion branch pens letter to HM The Queen after cuts to respite centres

All county branches level a vote of no confidence in trustees and management at The Royal British Legion

Tuesday, 4th February 2020, 11:15 am
Updated Tuesday, 4th February 2020, 11:15 am
Ex-RAF pilot Eddie Habberley pictured with poppy seller Darrin Stevens.

One of the biggest Royal British Legion branches in Northamptonshire has written a letter to the charity's patron, HM The Queen, after the charity will cease to operate its four break hotels and home maintenance service.

The Royal British Legion Duston & District Branch has 110 members, some of them are World War Two heroes in their 90s who flew Spitfires for the RAF, now living without their wives.

Through their poppy appeals and other fundraising events in Northamptonshire, county branches last year raised more than £720,000 to support serving and ex-serving personnel.

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After the branch was told four hotels owned by the Royal British Legion - known as Poppy Breaks - will be closing in a bid to save £5.8 million, volunteer poppy seller Darrin Stevens said he could not stay quiet.

Darrin has been selling poppies for the Duston & District Branch for the past five years, to pay back his thanks to veterans like 96-year-old ex-RAF pilot Eddie Habberley (pictured).

He personally knows people who have used hotels in Bridlington, East Yorkshire; Weston- super-Mare, Somerset; and Portrush in Northern Ireland and understands what a difference a week away can make to someone who is caring for their husband with PTSD, or their wife with dementia.

One woman locally, who didn't wish to be named, lost her husband and said being away from home and meeting like-minded people was the best thing that could have happened to her.

Another young woman whose husband had returned from Afghanistan showing signs of PTSD, but was in denial, took the opportunity to take her young children on a family break, which she said was 'amazing' and gave her the respite they needed.

Following a period of consultation, The Royal British Legion’s Board of Trustees has confirmed that the charity will cease to operate its four break centres and home maintenance service.

Proposals to close the services were put forward in November 2019 as part of a 'wider programme of work'.

Since 2016 the charity said it has seen a 20 per cent increase in people needing basic support with housing, financial issues, mental health, well-being and mobility.

In this time, the average expenditure per household through the Legion’s immediate needs funding has risen 45 per cent from £900 to £1,330.

A Royal British Legion spokesperson said: "Ceasing to operate the break centres and handy van service will provide £5.8 million annually, which will be diverted to address the urgent needs people are coming to the charity with.

"By refocusing its resource, the Legion can invest more in on the ground, personalised support across its network."

Darrin, who takes one week off work each year to voluntarily sell poppies, said: "Just before Christmas we got wind the Royal British Legion was going to stop the Poppy Breaks.

"What's going to happen to all these people who need to go away? I bet there are millions of people out there who went on a Poppy Break who will tell you that it's saved their marriage and their lives.

"Veterans and members want to know where their money is going but when we ask questions, we get no answers. So what are you doing with the frontline services'?"

As well as axing the poppy breaks, the RBL is stopping a Poppy Handy Van service, which provides small but often vital home maintenance to those who would struggle otherwise.

In turn, the handy worker often detects if someone is living in isolation.

"Why is the charity picking a year with the biggest anniversary events in our lifetime - including 80 years since the Battle of Britain - to cut services?" Darrin asked.

"The Royal British Legion is the aunt or uncle to go to if you need help but I've got veterans now who are walking away because they are saying they are disgusted."

"If we can stop them axing the poppy van it would be a win for Royal British Legion and the country as well."

In a letter written to the Queen by The Royal British Legion Duston & District Branch, county members have levelled a vote of no confidence in the trustees and management of The Royal British Legion.

The letter reads: 'As the Patron of our charity, our branch members felt that we should write to you to make you aware of the level of concern, which currently exists with many of the members and whereby, we and the county have taken the unwanted but necessary of levelling a vote of no confidence in the trustees and management of The Royal British Legion."

A spokesperson for The Royal British Legion added: “Our members are a vital part of our national network, play an important role in helping us provide support to the Armed Forces community and contribute to the way in which the Legion is run.

"Over half of our Board of Trustee positions are elected members voted for by the membership at our annual conference, and it is through this mechanism and our Membership Council that members can influence the work and policies of the charity.

“We value our community at the Legion and do not believe in taking decisions in isolation behind closed doors. We fully respect the rights of the membership to express their views and provided an opportunity for them to share views on our proposals with us. Some views were positive, and others were negative, but we have taken all views into consideration in reaching a final decision. This has been a particularly difficult decision for the Board of Trustees and Executive Board and has not been taken lightly.”