As we mark six months since the beginning of lockdown, I would like to extend my sincere thanks to all those who have supported us – whether that’s by donating, taking on a fundraising challenge or following our activities online.
Opportunities and challenges lie ahead, but I am absolutely clear on one point, which is that this charity would not exist without the enduring commitment of its supporters, partners, volunteers and staff. Going forwards, these updates will provide information about our response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the steps we are taking to ensure that soldiers, veterans and their families remain properly supported.
Since March, we have disbursed around £2.8m to the Army family in need. Of this, almost £1m was spent on grants to individuals and families – offering a lifeline to over 1,100 people. One recipient was Ben, a veteran of the Royal Anglian Regiment who had been struggling to access support for PTSD over lockdown. We were pleased to award a grant for a new laptop so he could attend group therapy sessions online.
We have also spent over £1.8m on grants to 20 other charities and organisations that provide frontline support to the Army family. We take our role as one of the biggest providers of grants to other charities and organisations in the military charity sector very seriously, and remain absolutely committed to ensuring that appropriate programmes and services remain in place for those who need them.
Looking ahead, we anticipate rising demand from individuals and families in need as the furlough scheme comes to an end and the real scale of economic damage becomes clear.
To help ensure we can meet this rising demand and operate effectively for the foreseeable future, we have taken a series of actions including drawing down on our reserves and taking advantage of government support schemes. Our board is clear that our reserves exist to safeguard our operations in time of crisis, like now, but equally we need to preserve our long-term ability to act as the Army’s ‘strategic reserve’ for benevolence.
As we rebalance our own operations, we continue to play a key role in encouraging the wider sector to further collaborate and consolidate. We are clear that the current exceptional circumstances provide opportunities as well as risks. With the financial pressures that have been brought to bear by the current crisis, our sector will face some consolidation and we are key stakeholders in work underway to shape that change rather than merely be subject to it.
Read more about our preparations in our provisional annual report.
Over the course of the pandemic, we have seen a dramatic 50% reduction in fundraising income – due largely to the cancellation of around 600 events. Despite the restrictions, our supporters, staff and volunteers have found innovative ways to generate much-needed funds for those in need. This includes our virtual code-breaking challenge, Operation Bletchley, which took place in July and raised over £140,000 for the Army family. Set in the murky world of wartime espionage, the challenge saw 3,152 participants walk either 50 miles or 100 miles, meeting with secret agents and cracking codes along the way.
Voices of VJ Day – Remembering The Forgotten Army
Last month we marked the 75th anniversary of VJ Day with the release of a special podcast, ‘Voices of VJ Day’, which charts the events of the Burma Campaign and General Slim’s Fourteenth “Forgotten” Army.
The podcast features General Sir Mike Jackson; General the Lord Richards; Griff Rhys Jones, whose father served in Burma; the late Dame Vera Lynn’s daughter, Virginia Lewis Jones; and a host of Burma veterans who recall what it was like to fight the Japanese in the heat of the jungle, 75 years ago. Listen now.
Once again, thank you for ensuring our charity can continue to be here for soldiers, for life.
Martin Rutledge CB OBE
Chief Executive, ABF The Soldiers’ Charity