As the city pauses


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PIC Soldier 1 November

As the city pauses once again to reflect on those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for their country, we’re being urged to remember them – but also those who are left behind.

The Royal British Legion has set a national target of £42m for this year’s Poppy Appeal, some £2m more than last year. That means that all of us in Winchester will have to dig deep and up the game too, even after last year’s record-breaking fundraising.

Steve Elsey works as a County Welfare Officer in Hampshire for the Royal British Legion alongside Lizzie White. He says he never fails to be astonished at the generosity that people in Winchester can find year after year: “They feel involved, and I think people are much more aware now of what goes on behind the scenes.”

Steve told Winchester Today that the admiration for our Armed Forces never diminishes: “People deep down actually do respect the services; wives, family, the servicemen and women themselves – they all have to give up something.”

In these harsh economic times, it’s sometimes very difficult to spare even the odd extra 50p, even if we really want to, but Steve Elsey says it’s all important: “Even a small donation to the Poppy Appeal will contribute towards what we do.”

The money generated in Hampshire stays in Hampshire, and although the Legion has to spend more than it raises, Steve says you may be surprised to know that 90% of that funding comes from money raised in the county: “We only have to take about 10% of what we need from the national pot. We simply couldn’t do the amazing amount of work we do without that generosity.”

The money helps the military both past and present: “It’s a complete list: welfare breaks, family holidays (over 8,000 nationally), immediate need grants, travel costs, help around the home… we even help get people back into training through our ‘Civvy Street’ scheme, or help them run their own business. We help with re-housing when people leave service or help with private rent.”

Steve told Winchester Today that the Legion tries to help as many as they can where the needs lie, without turning people away: “Common sense dictates that more assistance is required because of what we’re involved in economically. Numbers of people requesting help are rising steeply because of all the things we’ve identified. We have to look at every case. I think we’ve got it down to only around 5% of people that we’re not allowed to help. Even then, if we feel there’s a genuine need, we signpost them and then try to get them help from elsewhere.”

He also told us that he engages in conversation with many more organisations to try and do just that: “Just a few days ago, I sat in on a county meeting. As a Legion, we work very closely with Hampshire County Council on things like housing and homelessness for example. It works in both directions; we pass on cases to them, and they pass on cases to us.”

Steve is convinced that every penny helps: “Charity begins at home. Even a small donation will help someone who has served our country. Service to your country is the highest thing you can do.”