Royal British Legion facing battle to bring in new members

Norwich Normandy veteran Alan King on Sword Beach, with his daughter, Royal British Legion standard

Norwich Normandy veteran Alan King on Sword Beach, with his daughter, Royal British Legion standard bearer Joyce Cooper. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2015

For many it brings to mind thoughts of wreaths, collectors rattling their tins in the November chill and teary-eyed veterans with their medals polished to a shine.

Since the Second World War the Royal British Legion has been a fact of life for many.

But now the legion is facing a battle to inject new blood into the organisation.

A few decades ago most villages had their own branch but now many of them have merged after membership dwindled.

David Sell, treasurer of the Watton and District branch, said: 'We had a meeting the week before last with nine of us there.

'The legion has probably got a bit of a reputation of being a bit like Dad's Army. We are not getting the younger blood coming in.

'We have a membership of probably 40 – but the older ones don't want to come out in the evenings and it is hard to get people involved.'

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Part of the problem is finding members able to take on the task of organising poppy collections, distributing wreaths and finding volunteers to shake the buckets – all of which has to be done long before November 11.

John Needham, chairman of Cromer and District Royal British Legion, said that there were 70 or 80 members in his branch. He said: 'I expect numbers to be much reduced in 10 years, unless we get a lot of younger people to join.

'It is a sad fact that all the veterans from the two world wars are nearly gone, but there should be ex-servicemen to keep it going.'

Royal British Legion Sheringham and District branch treasurer Melanie Clarke said: 'Unless we can recruit new members the branch will slowly fizzle away. The majority of our members no longer attend meetings – we are down to about 15 to 20.

'Our oldest member is 100 and of those who attend meetings the youngest are about 75.

'Our standard bearer is 83. The branch can only keep going if we have the committee members in post.'

However, not all branches are struggling.

Dereham's has more than 150 members, ranging from their 20s to their 90s.

President Dennis O'Callaghan said: 'We have some new young blood and we seem to be going from strength to strength.

'Three or four years ago we were down to 10 or 12 at meetings, but now we have got a very active group. We have got a very positive committee and we have got a good club going.'

Lowestoft and District branch chairman Bob King said he was optimistic about the future of his group, which has maintained its numbers over the past few years.

He added: 'One of our biggest problems is finding capable people to take on organisational roles. The older generation have done their bit and are not always comfortable with modern technology. Our younger members have work and family commitments.

'We need younger members for the future and young retired members to actively raise our profile and hold the fort until younger members are in a position to take over.'

As well as organising memorial events, the RBL also supports veterans, serving forces personnel and their families with their finances, bereavement support, employability and mental health.

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