Veteran Royal British Legion branch needs new members to stay alive

The Watton and District Royal British Legion, one of the founding branches of the charity, is appeal

The Watton and District Royal British Legion, one of the founding branches of the charity, is appealing for new members. (L-R) Chairman Alan Chilvers, John Daly, Sid Barnes, Steve Bibby, secretary Helen Daly, treasurer David Sell, president Ron Wheeler and Rev Gerry Foster of St Mary's Church in Watton. Picture by Bethany Whymark - Credit: Archant

Founded in 1921, the Royal British Legion has provided a helping hand – financially and emotionally – to servicemen and women for nearly a century.

Lord Walsingham, co-founder of the charity, established one of the first branches in Watton near his family estate.

But now this veteran branch faces shutting down if it cannot attract more members.

From a membership of almost 500 in the 1950s, numbers have dwindled down to 37 – with the average attendance at meetings of just 10.

The branch's new secretary Helen Daly, who recently joined the organisation with her husband John, is on a mission to save the branch from failure.

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She said: 'Membership has dwindled quite dramatically – Watton and district used to be quite an active branch.

'It is an unfortunate image the legion has – people just associate it with the Poppy Appeal and the First and Second World Wars.

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'All the branches can fundraise for whatever they want throughout the year, and we are planning to do that this year.

'We are hoping to get some younger people in. As long as you are over 16 you can join. You do not even have to have been in the forces, which is something a lot of people do not realise.'

Mr and Mrs Daly, 63 and 61, who both served in the RAF, are among the youngest members of the Watton branch.

They joined the Royal British Legion rather than the RAF Association as it is 'more inclusive'.

Legion branch treasurer David Sell said: 'We have had recent conflicts and the veterans from those have similar problems to people who first joined the British Legion. There is still a need for it.'

The British Legion was founded in 1921 to help ex-servicemen after the First World War. It was granted royal status in 1971.

In recent years a swathe of military charities including Help For Heroes and SSAFA have taken centre stage.

In an attempt to capitalise on this drive and attract younger members, the RBL recently underwent a modernising rebrand.

Membership is open to former and serving military personnel, as well as civilians.

Mrs Daly hopes by boosting membership, the Watton branch will be able to run bimonthly social events and enlist welfare officers to help in the community.

Its next committee meeting is at the Hare and Barrel on Brandon Road on Tuesday, January 17 from 7pm. Non members are also welcome.

For more information call Helen Daly on 01953 885124.

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