Cllr Mike Renton says we need to remember the Royal British Legion, as its fundraising with its iconic poppy has been badly it by the pandemic

LAST year, after representing Darlington council at the 75th commemoration of the Battle of Arnhem in the Netherlands and tracing the steps of a local man who lost his life, I wrote a piece in The Northern Echo entitled “Why We Remember”.

If you stand in the Memorial Hall, at the Memorial Hospital, and look at the long list of names of men from the town who fell in the two world wars, you quickly understand why. But this year, more than any other year, has given rise to another question: what is the cost of remembrance?

The Poppy Appeal has, like so many other annual fundraising campaigns, taken a back seat to Covid this year. As a result, there hasn’t been the usual presence of poppy sellers on street corners or in supermarkets collecting money for the Royal British Legion.

In Darlington, we have only been allowed to stand in one supermarket, and a massive thanks to Morrisons for that, and collection boxes have been scarce.

I manned the stand last year in the Morton Park supermarket when it was very busy, and I’ve seen the slow drip of people this year, so I can’t help but worry for the charity and its beneficiaries as we head into the cold season.

What does a reduction in income mean for the appeal? Like any charity, the front line is where the result will be felt the most. The Legion’s Handy Van service, which provided small home repairs and maintenance to eligible Armed Forces personnel, veterans and their dependents, has already gone silent due to lack of funding. I fear the number of financial grants will have to be reduced, and countless people could go without the support they deserve.

But it’s not just the fundraising that will be affected in 2020. A year where remembrance parades have been cancelled and the Beefeaters are shielding has meant that we have lost the most important yearly opportunity to raise awareness of the horrors of conflict, and the sacrifices serving men and women make every day.

This week, we had to close the stand as lockdown came into force, but even before that, although we had offers from a few people like the Mayor, Cllr Chris McEwan, Paul Howell the Sedgefield MP and Cllr Jonathan Dulston, we were struggling to find cover for the stand from non-Legion members. Like many voluntary organisations across the country, we simply struggle to appeal to younger generations – beyond donating for a Poppy in November.

If we continue like this, there will be no one left to carry on our message of support and remembrance.

There is nothing more humbling than when a young child asks their parents for money to put in the red box.

Appreciating the meaning of the Poppy and its significance to this country and our history is a legacy passed from parents to children.

But as the living grief of major conflicts passes away, unless we keep educating future generations, remembrance will be changed forever. And those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.

You can donate to the Royal British Legion all year round, and next year, maybe you'll consider offering to cover a shift for that elderly person sat holding a red box in the cold, because they are too proud to ask.