Eastbourne’s Royal British Legion bounces back in bid to reach £100k fundraising target

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Two years ago the future of Eastbourne’s Poppy Appeal looked doubtful and the charity was suffering from a lack of organisation and volunteers, but the town has rallied and the warehouse is stocked up and operated like a well-oiled machine in a bid to reach a £100,000 fundraising target to mark the 2018 WW1 centenary.

The Poppy Appeal team has worked tirelessly to make Eastbourne’s Poppy Appeal a success.

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They were thrown in at the deep end last year with an almost impossible challenge.

With a cold and damp warehouse and computer system which was still using floppy discs, the Royal British Legion team started from scratch and against all the odds managed to raised £61,000.

Chairman David Whatley was in the Royal Engineers for seven years and stepped in to help. He said, “I became the chairman and the standard bearer, so I have become the face of Eastbourne’s Royal British Legion.

“In 2017 we ran the Poppy Appeal for the first time and be were winging it. I said I’d be happy if we made £50,000 last year but it crept up and up and we got to £61,000.”

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However, since that time Eastbourne’s Royal British Legion branch has gone from strength to strength and David recently attended the Great Pilgrimage 90 with the legion.

He was one of thousands of members and representatives to help recreate the 1928 Battlefields Pilgrimage to mark the centenary of the launch of the ‘Hundred Days Offensive’. A decade after the end of WWI, the British Legion organised for 11,000 veterans and war widows to visit the battlefields of the Somme and Ypres before marching to the Menin Gate in Ypres on August 8, 1928.

In 2018, exactly 90 years on, Great Pilgrimage 90 saw 1,150 branches and thousands of members help The Royal British Legion recreate their original pilgrimage.

David said, “It is pride that has got us through. Pride and enthusiasm. Saying there aren’t going to be poppies in town – that was horrible for me so I couldn’t let that happen.”

Valentine Strudwick was the youngest soldier to die at the Somme SUS-180910-155933001

Valentine Strudwick was the youngest soldier to die at the Somme SUS-180910-155933001

Although there were few records or electronic files for Eastbourne’s volunteers to work with, the highest amount ever raised for the town’s Poppy Appeal is recorded at £74,000. This year David and Poppy Appeal organiser, Alan Young, are hoping to beat that target.

Alan said, “I am going for £100,000 this year. It is 100 years since the First World War and there are around 100,000 people in Eastbourne, so if everyone gives £1 we can do it. I believe it is possible.”

Alan has been involved with the Royal British Legion for as long as he can remember. Born and bred in Eastbourne, he watched his whole family sell poppies for the cause.

He said, “My aunty was the standard bearer for the women’s section for 35 years.

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“I remember at four or five I would walk round with mum and sell poppies each November. We would go door-to-door and when the tin got too heavy for mum to put on her wrist she would ask me to carry it.

“I was brought up with it and I am a firm believer that you get out of life what you put in, and I have tried to bring my children up the same way.”
Alan’s daughters Catriona and Laura are always ready to help their dad with the Poppy Appeal. Catriona and her fiance Ben Skilton have designed spreadsheets for the charity to enable Alan to make all the necessary calculations when it comes to coin counting.

The Poppy Appeal is a cause close to Ben’s heart too. His great, great, great uncle, Valentine Strudwick, lied about his age and went to war aged 15. He sadly became the youngest soldier to die in the Battle of the Somme on January 14, 1916. Catriona and Ben recently made a trip to Belgium and found his grave.

Armistice Day is just a few short weeks away and the Legion’s warehouse in Courtlands Road is a hive of activity. There are organised lists on the walls of the warehouse and the boxes of poppies and wreaths are stacked high ready to be delivered across the town.

The Anderida Cub Scouts have been in the warehouse packing boxes of poppies too.

Alan said, “I would like to thank the Scouts, their parents and the Scout leaders. They got a production line going and did so well. They are so enthusiastic.”

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David and Alan have also received help from Eurovan, Gibbs and Dandy, Office Outlet and SME Solutions. All the businesses have offered free goods and services to help the Poppy Appeal.

Despite the success of the 2018 Poppy Appeal so far, volunteers are still needed. There is a job for everyone and any time given to the cause will be much appreciated.

Roles include just a two-hour shift selling poppies in supermarkets, delivering boxes of poppies, street collections or door-to-door.

For those unable to give their time, The Royal British Legion is appealing to each and every member of the community to buy a poppy and donate as much as they are able.

There are a number of poppy products available, including the traditional paper poppies, limited edition pins to mark the centenary and wrist bands.

The poppies will be available across the town, in all the major supermarkets and the Arndale Centre from October 27.

Alan said, “This year there will be three Saturdays before Armistice Day, so I am hopeful this will be a great year for fundraising.”

To volunteer call the warehouse on 417625 and leave a message with your name and number.