RAF Marham closure would hit Norfolk charities, community groups and schools hard

Just a brief look on the RAF Marham community website and you quickly realise there is always some sort of entertainment, fair, rally or mad charity challenge going on.

While forces' charities and national causes certainly benefit from the many fundraising events on the base, the thousands who have come to live and work at RAF Marham play an important role in supporting many local charities, community groups, schools and hospitals.

It is hard to calculate the scale of charity contribution, not to mention the volunteer hours given.

Although the base has a charity committee, which donates thousands of pounds throughout the year, there are many more individuals at the base who take the initiative to volunteer and raise money themselves.

The closure of the base would be felt by many local organisations already strapped for cash and could even see some volunteer services disappear.

Marham First Response is funded and run by volunteers from across RAF Marham.

They run a rapid response car manned by on call volunteers who can often reach a casualty before an ambulance crew and start treatment. They will have saved lives in the local area.

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Andrew Barlow, community partnership manager for First Response, said: 'The volunteers come from all areas of the base.

'They want to put something back into the community as obviously the community has embraced them. They do all the funding for the car themselves.

'We have got more than 60 schemes across Norfolk, but nothing quite as unique as the RAF Marham response. They do quite a lot of calls over the course of a month.

'They do evenings and weekends. It is all done in their spare time. It is quite incredible really. Without them we would struggle to find a replacement.'

Over the years, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in King's Lynn, has received tens of thousands of pounds. Just this month the hospital was given �6,000 to help improve the outdoor facilities at the Roxburgh Children's Centre and a sponsored walk undertaken by RAF airmen and women from Marham was thought to have raised more than �2,000 for the Castle Acre maternity ward.

East of England Air Ambulance area fundraising manager Chris Donaldson said: 'I've been in the job for six and a half years and I estimate we have received �13,000 from various branches at the base over that time.

'It demonstrates to the community that they are keen to support a local charity. Although it wouldn't cripple us if they were to close, it would be a regular donor that had gone.'

But as well as the local hospital and ambulance service, school children have also benefited from Marham cash.

Hamonds High School business manager Leigh Sharpe said that the Swaffham school, which educates many children from the base, also benefited from the generosity of RAF Marham.

He said that money had recently been donated for a new minibus and that the revamp of the school had been helped by the base, which made donations towards items like new uniforms.

'We have been on the receiving end of much funding in the past and we have a good relationship with the base.'

Richard Shaw, chief executive of The Norfolk Hospice at Tapping House, said that over the years they had been invited to the family day at RAF Marham. Charity fundraisers had been held for the hospice, including an 'It's a knockout' competition, and they had been supported by the First Responders from the base.

'They are an important part of the community and for our area and it is very important that we retain that.

'Although we are a distance from them, they still remember that we are here and when we ask, they do tend to support us', he said.

The East Anglia's Children's Hospices was equally grateful.

A spokesman said: 'RAF Marham is a dedicated supporter of East Anglia's Children's Hospices and has raised tens of thousands of pounds for the charity in the past two decades.

'We rely upon voluntary donations for the majority of our income and we need to raise �4 million in donations to deliver our services this year. This amounts to �11,000 a day, every day of the year, which is why support from RAF Marham is important to us here at EACH.'

Local charity shops also rely on the base.

Heather Blyth, manager of Sue Ryder Care charity shop, in Downham Market, said the closure of the base would have a knock-on effect.

'They have brought things in and done different things for the charity. It's amazing; we do get a lot of stuff coming in from the airbase.'

She added that the charity's furniture shop was also helped by donations from people at the base.