Legion's warning as Covid crisis set to decimate Poppy Appeal

Donations to this year’s Poppy Appeal could be half of that given in a normal year, it was warned today.

In the week that the annual appeal is launched, Royal British Legion volunteers in the West Midlands spoke of the challenge they face to bring in much-needed income.

A single collection stall at a major supermarket in the Black Country brought in almost £20,000 last year.

But with physical sales of poppies severely restricted, and sales in stores not possible, that income will be lost.

Today the Royal British Legion’s Battle Back Centre in Lilleshall spoke of the desperate need to keep up donations.

It specialises in helping veterans who are recovering from both physical injury and psychological trauma.

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Sally Green, assistant recovery manager at the centre, says £2.5 million needs to be raised every year just to keep the centre operating to the capacity required.

It is feared the funding could be cut if the £50 million normally raised from the Poppy Appeal is cut.

The Royal British Legion estimates donations could be halved this year because people will find it difficult to pick up their poppy. Collectors who normally take to the streets of the West Midlands will no longer be able to carry out their duties either because of coronavirus restrictions or because they are themselves shielding. Far less will also be collected from workplaces because many office workers are now staying at home.

And restrictions in pubs, which mean customers cannot approach the bar, will also have an impact.

Sally said: “A lot of the volunteers you see on the streets won’t be there this year. We’re expecting it to be a really difficult.”

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Ken Finch, who is part of the Lower Gornal branch of the Royal British Legion, said plans for streets collections and stalls have been scrapped.

“Last year we collected £11,000. That will be down this year," he said.

“I would be very surprised if funds don’t go down 50 per cent nationally – but I have no doubt the Legion will continue.”

Remembrance Sunday parades in our region have been either scrapped or dramatically downscaled this year.

But the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire is allowing visitors to its annual Royal British Legion’s Field of Remembrance, with strict social distancing measures in place.

Scrapping poppy stalls will cost appeal thousands in lost donations

Parades will be scaled back or scrapped

A single collection in a busy supermarket can bring in up to £20,000, but those collections are no longer possible because of coronavirus.

Remembrance events, parades and services are likely to be scrapped, vastly reduced in size or going online, with an impact on donations.

Mark Spilsbury, from the Blackheath branch, said: “We’re working at about half capacity. A lot of volunteers are elderly so there won’t be as many poppies around.

“We will be getting poppies out to pubs and clubs – as long as the pubs stop open – and local shops.

“Sainsbury’s has said we can’t put a person in store. We took £18,000 in Blackheath Sainsbury’s last year. We’re going to lose that. From a Remembrance service point of view we’re waiting for a decision from the Government. The Legion aren’t allowed to do anything ourselves, that has been made clear.”

Malcolm Davis, a former chairman of the Dudley branch, says he is resigned to takings being badly hit.

Struggle

He said: “The whole thing is just horrible. It is the one thing a year where everybody sticks their hand in their pocket, no questions asked, for the lads and lasses who have lost their lives.

“I know the Legion brings in £50 million plus. I think they will possibly lose half of it to be honest because of the restrictions. It will be a struggle to find the money to finance what they have got to finance. It’s a very expensive ordeal to have prosthetic limbs and to supply people who have lost limbs. You would think it would have an impact on them.”

The usual Remembrance parades have scrapped by most councils, with numbers in attendance to be significantly lower than usual. Some services are likely to be streamed to allow people to watch safely from home.

Sandwell Council’s acting leader Maria Crompton said she understood people’s desire to pay their respects but that guidelines must be followed in order to keep people safe.

She said: “It is difficult and I understand people will be wanting to remember in some way. We were determined to do something but we can’t do it how we would normally do it..”

Covid is a new enemy for veterans

Ken Finch, left, says donations will drop

Every year thousands of volunteers rise to the challenge of honouring those who made the ultimate sacrifice, writes Richard Guttridge.

In October in Britain, the familiar sight of the red poppy is as certain as Halloween.

But with 2020 having been a year like no other, the Poppy Appeal is facing an uphill battle – and coronavirus is the enemy.

Remembrance events are particularly facing difficulties this year, with the region now under tighter restrictions and many of the people who get involved with the organising and volunteering at a local level falling into the elderly and vulnerable category.

Many poppy sellers will not be able to take part this year due to the risks involved, putting a big dent into the resources of the Royal British Legion, which runs the Poppy Appeal.

Disabilities

Branch chairmen believe donations to this year’s Poppy Appeal, some of which goes towards rehabilitating service members back into civilian life, helping them with their disabilities and supporting those with PTSD, could fall by around half.

Ken Finch, a Dudley councillor who helps with organising at the Lower Gornal branch, said: “Last year we collected £11,000 in Gornal and the surrounding area – this year we anticipate that will be down. We can’t do street collections and we can’t have a stand in the village. Some of the big supermarkets will be doing their own collection.

"The money we collect from the Co-op would normally be allocated to the branch, but it will be a national one. There will still be a collection but it will be sent directly to London.

“We can’t obviously have the parade, with the restrictions. We are still carrying on with a small memorial service. Normally we would have 1,500 at the service but we can’t obviously do that this year. The British Legion has a responsibility for the health and safety of the people who congregate at the memorial.”

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