Following a period of consultation, The Royal British Legion’s Board of Trustees has confirmed that the charity will cease to operate its four break centres and home maintenance service. Proposals to close the services were put forward in November 2019 as part of a wider programme of work. The Legion is creating a new strategy that will ensure it is having the greatest impact, making the most of its resources, and evolving in line with changes in the Armed Forces community.
The new direction is being developed to address the changes in the Armed Forces community, as the type of support needed is growing increasingly complex with people requiring help across multiple issues. Since 2016 the charity has seen a 20% increase in people needing basic support with housing, financial issues, mental health and well-being and mobility. In this time, the average expenditure per household through the Legion’s immediate needs funding has risen 45% from £900 to £1330.
People are coming to us with multiple needs where a holistic approach providing ongoing support is required. We are seeing people at their lowest ebb, at risk of homelessness, and in dire financial situations where they can’t afford to feed their families. Ceasing to operate the break centres and handy van service will provide £5.8 million annually which will be diverted to address the urgent needs people are coming to us with. By refocusing our resource, the Legion can invest more in on the ground, personalised support across our network.
As part of the charity’s strategic review the Board of Trustees has established a Northern Ireland Advisory Committee to continue to review how best to meet beneficiary needs in the area. There is a unique situation for the Armed Forces community in Northern Ireland, because of historic issues, current challenges and lower levels of statutory support, which make it difficult for veterans to find the support they need. The committee, made up of Legion staff and key external stakeholders, will co-ordinate with the recently reconvened Northern Ireland Assembly and liaise with the newly created Veterans’ Commissioner.
Although the break services will no longer operate across the Legion, the Board of Trustees have made the decision to temporarily utilise the break centre building, Bennet House, in Portrush for use by the charity’s Poppy Club, local community and other charities to help continue supporting beneficiaries in the area. The building will be available for non-residential activity until July 2020, when the Legion’s service provision in Northern Ireland will be re-evaluated using existing research and a new report due to be published by Queen’s University Belfast.
The decision to close our break centres and handy van service has not been taken lightly, and with sadness as we know the services are much loved and some colleagues will be leaving the charity. The affected staff have all contributed greatly to our work, they are part of our community, and we are doing all we can to support them in their next steps.
The reprioritised funding will provide increased resource for; casework and providing support that fits individual need, immediate needs funding including crisis grants, investment in our care homes and services for older members of the Armed Forces community, and funding external grants to organisations providing specialist support.
For nearly 100 years the Legion has supported the British Armed Forces community, providing practical help and campaigning on their behalf. Throughout our history the Legion has responded to the changes in our community and the landscape the charity operates within. As we look ahead to our centenary, the Legion will once again adapt to meet the needs of the people we support and ensure we are fit for purpose for the next 100 years.