Corporate Address delivered to delegates and guests at County Conference - January 2021
As we emerge from the most fraught year in British post-war history, we can reflect upon those of us who have tragically lost loved ones during the pandemic, the service of our Armed Forces in responding to the crisis, and those among our members and staff who have stepped up to provide companionship and support to those in our communities.
We are immensely proud of The Royal British Legion and our members who have proven to be such a force for good in our communities. When the 2020 coronavirus pandemic struck in March and the country went into lockdown, thousands of veterans and members of the Armed Forces community were left isolated, without help or care. We fully understand the special needs of our community and the Legion and our members and Branches across the UK and overseas stepped in immediately to provide assistance and practical help.
Our 2,500 Branches across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland provide us with a local footprint on a national scale.
One example is The Royal British Legion Branch in Walsingham, Norfolk, which was part of a local initiative to support people in the village and surrounding areas. The chairman, Adam, ex-Royal Engineer, helped to form a task force comprising members of the Parish Council and the local clergy. This group provided essentials such as shopping and meal deliveries as well as keeping an eye on the lonely and vulnerable.
One of the many people they helped with food deliveries was Steve, a D-Day veteran. He had joined the Legion chartered vessel the MV Boudicca, which took veterans to national and international ceremonies on either side of the English Channel in 2019 for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
Like Legion branches all over the country, Walsingham will continue to offer support to members of the Armed Forces community even after the pandemic is over. The branch has a strong committee and membership thanks to the commitment of local veterans, led by Adam.
In September we hosted the Community Response Awards to recognise our Members, Supporters and Volunteers who were turning out in force in response to the Coronavirus Pandemic, in support of their communities and the Legion.
The Awards acknowledged, and raised the profile, of this fantastic work and we received many nominations to review. It was a hard job deciding on the winners but were pleased to be able to make awards across five categories to contributors to creative fundraising, internal and community collaboration, individual contributions, and digital innovations, celebrating the great work, far and wide from Fivemiletown in Northern Ireland, to Alicante in Spain.
The Branch Community Support scheme provided us with a greater ability to provide this response in the community and I hope it will see even greater support across all of our branches in the future. Legion Branches will continue to be a constant in people’s lives, keeping the faith with the Armed Forces community and ensuring that as far as possible no one slips through the net.
In times of adversity, is when you see the Legion at our best, working hard and improvising to look after those we serve. During the pandemic, not surprisingly, we have seen the need for our services and beneficiaries’ continued complex and multiple needs come to the fore.
For those in our Care Homes, visits have been curtailed and the whole nature of the care we provide has been changed by the needs of infection control, increased use of PPE and social distancing measures and our staff in the care homes have been amazing at maintaining such a great level of care in such trying circumstances.
The Admiral Nurse Service transitioned quickly to providing support for families with loved ones diagnosed with dementia, quickly adapting to online support and expanding the service beyond the established six geographic service areas, to all areas and nations in the UK and worldwide. A remarkable achievement and one positive from this difficult time – we’ve been able to support more people.
To maintain our case-working and specialist advice services, we successfully switched all our home visiting services to telephone or video calls, ensuring the right support was available at the right time. We received over 37,000 direct requests from beneficiaries in need. They were either based in the UK or one of 31 countries across the world where we operate. We have continued to see an increase in people turning to us with complex, multiple needs, seeking practical help at a most difficult and often chaotic time. Through our case-working, we provided practical support by awarding grants to more than 6,000 individuals, with mobility, housing and debt being the three most prevalent issues.
Our War Pension and Armed Forces Compensation service received over 4,000 requests for support with appeals against compensation awards. The Courts and Tribunals Services closed due to Covid-19, ceasing all appeals for three months. It resumed in July 2020, operating virtual hearings, enabling appeals to be heard.
1,780 beneficiaries sought our specialist debt and money advice during the year, an increase of 21% on last year. We secured £12.6 million for these people - either helping them to access benefits and grants or negotiating debt relief - a 52% uplift on the previous year.
Our welfare services moved online at the outset of this pandemic and have been successfully delivering ever since. We have made it swifter and simpler for those in greatest crisis to reach assistance so desperately needed. I think we should maintain some of these innovations even when the pandemic is over. In our One Legion strategy we are committed to enabling individuals within the Armed Forces Community to live fulfilled lives and that we will understand and adapt to their needs. So we must strive to find ways to reach our communities and have the greatest impact we can for them – something I’m sure we can all agree on.
In terms of the charity’s financial performance, our gross income fell by about £16 million last year but with prudent and careful financial management we ended the year with a £2 million deficit.
For the Poppy Appeal, one of the ways we responded to the challenge of the pandemic was to increase the availability of contactless giving in a time when the cash economy was shrinking. Working with charity partners such as supermarkets who continued to provide us with collection points which are such a part of national tradition, we made it easier for people to donate to the charity digitally, while still having a physical connection with our collectors, which proved to be highly successful.
We are still adding up the final results of the 2020 Poppy Appeal, but we expect it to be in the region of £20 million less than previous years. Nonetheless with the same careful and prudent management of our resources we expect to meet the coming year on a sound financial footing.
We were also, within the limitations of coronavirus restrictions, able to pay tribute to the Second World War generation on the 75th anniversaries of VE Day and VJ Day. The preservation of our freedoms and democratic values are tribute to this remarkable generation, who continue to serve as an inspiration and example to those of us enduring difficult conditions in the present day.
We were particularly proud that the National Memorial Arboretum, a part of the Legion, was selected for the national ceremonies marking VJ Day 75. These services marked the diversity of the Commonwealth forces who came to Britain’s side during the war of the Far East and in so doing, invited a broad community in the UK to play a part in Remembrance. And we were delighted to welcome Captain Sir Tom Moore, an exemplar of his generation, to the Festival of Remembrance, performed under lockdown conditions.
In short, we weathered the storm of 2020 in good shape – and we could not have done this without the contributions of those of you who understand our work and who are proud to be a part of it.
Looking forward to 2021, our ambition is to celebrate our first 100 years of service to the Armed Forces community, and to deliver a charity that is prepared for all the challenges that the future will hold for us, and as we all know there will be a number of challenges.
As the Great Bell of Big Ben struck at 9.00am on Sunday, 15 May, 1921, representatives of four veterans’ associations from the First World War laid wreaths at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, itself inaugurated only six months before. With this act, The Royal British Legion was born and its remarkable journey in support of the Armed Forces community had begun.
As Her Majesty the Queen has written, in a dedication to be printed in the Legion’s forthcoming book, We Are The Legion, to be published in Spring to mark our centenary:
Since 1921, when four ex-service organisations joined together in a spirit of placing service to others before self, the Legion has worked with alacrity, intelligence, and commitment, pursuing a mission of bringing together nations, communities, and people to provide better futures for our Armed Forces, veterans, and their families.
Remarkably, the Legion’s purpose has remained unchanged to this day, as it continues to provide help and assistance to the Armed Forces community under a lifelong duty of care, whilst keeping its promise never to forget the service and sacrifice of those who have been prepared to step into harm’s way in defence of democracy and freedom.
In the coming year, we are hopeful that the present conditions will ease and that many of you will be coming together to celebrate our 100 years of our service to the Armed Forces community. I would like to assure you that we are working hard to make the Legion an even better organisation to deliver our charitable objectives to the Armed Forces community – ensuring the unique contribution of the Armed Forces is never forgotten and that individuals are enabled to live fulfilled lives.
Our centenary is also a year to celebrate our successes and plans for the future.
As part of our centenary preparations, we have created a means to share stories, mementos, and records of the Legion in the communities where you live, and to share these on digital platforms, at Annual Conference, and in exhibitions. Please take part by visiting our website and searching “Telling Our Story” so that your centenary stories can be shared.
In addition to our welfare services and Remembrance role, policy and campaigning is another vital part of our charitable remit. We have achieved a great milestone in having a military service question included in the national census. This will give local authorities, national government, sister charities and our own operations with the basis for understanding the veteran community and planning for the needs in generations to come.
We have played a leading role in shaping the Government’s national Veterans’ Strategy. And we continue to press for a waiver of the visa application fees for Commonwealth personnel and their families who have served in the British Armed Forces, to honour their contribution.
We are improving our ability to provide a better experience to those who come to us whether as people seeking assistance, as volunteers, as fundraisers, or as members. We are working as never before in collaboration with sister charities to make sure all these groups are given the best assistance available. We are pressing ahead with governments and authorities to improve conditions for veterans and serving personnel. And we are reaching into Commonwealth communities in the UK to mark their heritage in defending Britain, while also finding ways to support our Remembrance base in the local community.
Our vision is to bring together our nations, communities and individuals to create better futures for our Armed Forces Community and their families.
So we need to make the greatest difference we can to the community we are here to serve, meeting their most pressing and fundamental needs.
And we are focused more than ever on identifying those needs and aligning our services with them, looking both at what we do and how we do it.
We have invested more in Care Homes and provided more support through partners such as Combat Stress.
At Annual Conference there was a motion of no-confidence. We understand that many of the services that we provide are much loved and appreciated. And therefore, changing any of these are not made lightly. But we recognise that we can do more to share the challenges we face and the difficult decisions that need to be made.
To meet our new century, it is not enough to simply continue what we have always done. 100 years ago, our beneficiaries needed care after the First World War, today, the needs of the Armed Forces community range from financial, employment, housing, care and wellbeing. As the needs of the Armed Forces community change, so do we, to ensure we keep providing the right support and services they need for better futures.
We’ll achieve this through delivering our One Legion strategy and working together – that is staff, members and volunteers – all striving towards the same vision; so that not only will we face the challenges of today, but we will be prepared for tomorrow, and the coming months and years ahead, making the Legion fit for the next 100 years.
With a new future comes a new brand identity. We’ve got a new look that’s modern, whilst keeping the poppy at our heart. It’s been created collaboratively with input from staff, members, the general public and the people we support to build a brand fit for the future.
Our new brand can be easily seen and understood across digital and print channels, making it easier for people to find us and understand what we have to offer – whether they need access to our services and support or want to support our work.
We join you in hopes and expectations of a brighter year ahead. We thank you for your contributions and perseverance in these difficult times. And we join you in celebrating our centenary, with confidence and pride in our journey to come.