Help is at hand for sailors in need

(l-r) Staff from the Royal Naval Benevolent Trust Corinne Day, events and publicity officer, Commander Stephen Farrington, chief executive, Lyn Gannon, administration manager, Gail Collyer, human resources and accounts officer, Rob Jesson, financial controller, Sue Houghton, administration assistant, Carol Davies, administration assistant and Tony Brown, principal grant administrator.''Picture: Sarah Standing (133562-2296)
(l-r) Staff from the Royal Naval Benevolent Trust Corinne Day, events and publicity officer, Commander Stephen Farrington, chief executive, Lyn Gannon, administration manager, Gail Collyer, human resources and accounts officer, Rob Jesson, financial controller, Sue Houghton, administration assistant, Carol Davies, administration assistant and Tony Brown, principal grant administrator.''Picture: Sarah Standing (133562-2296)
Kevin Porter, left, and Rear Admiral Jeremy Larken, right, sign copies of Kevins book, below

Mental health charity benefits from new book

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The camaraderie and fellowship among sailors has never been in doubt.

And since 1922 that bond between all seamen and women has been sealed with the creation of the Royal Naval Benevolent Trust.

Grants and charitable payments, however small, have been gifted to serving personnel and veterans of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines who may have fallen on harder times.

Last year, for instance, 52 grants were given out for clothing, with the average payment about £190.

Out of a total spend of around £2.8m, about £122,000 was donated to help cover the cost of funerals.

And almost half of the grants were donated to people over the age of 60 last year.

The stark reality is even the proudest of veterans are sometimes forced to ask for financial help as they struggle to deal with the potent cocktail of austerity measures, changes in the benefits system and reduced pension fund returns.

Bringing the benevolence to those in need is a small hard-working team based at Castaway House in Twyford Avenue, Stamshaw.

I meet the knowledgeable and witty chief executive, Stephen Farrington, who spent 37 years in the navy after joining at the age of 16 and working his way up to commander.

He explains: ‘The idea was peer group support – sailors and Royal Marines helping their fellows who were going through a tough time.

‘That’s the model that we still employ today.

‘Every Monday and Thursday members of the grant committee come together and sit around tables and look at between 30 and 40 cases every time they sit.

‘We get 70 to 80 cases coming through every week on average.’

The grant committee is made up of volunteers.

Grants are not just given out to anybody who comes knocking and three signatures are required before a cheque is written.

‘In the last financial year, we helped just under 4,000 cases,’ says Stephen.

‘The timeline for this charity is about 100 years after the nation decides it no longer needs its Royal Navy or Royal Marines.

‘So we have a very long timeline!

‘Although the navy is smaller than it’s ever been, people come in for shorter periods of time, so there’s a higher turnover.’

Stephen explains that the charity works on the principle of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, with every human having basic physiological needs such as food, water and shelter.

Higher up the pyramid are traits such as love and creativity – certainly things that make life more interesting, but not necessarily elements of survival.

It is at the bottom of this pyramid that the charity concentrates.

Stephen says: ‘Poverty is no discriminator of age, circumstance or indeed the year we are talking.

‘You only have to walk around the streets of Portsmouth at night on a Saturday to see examples of that.

‘In London, there are many examples of people who are homeless and ex-service people.

‘You’d be amazed the number of times we sign cheques for food vouchers.’

So where does all the money come from?

A flick through the charity’s Annual Review answers this question, with hundreds of donations and legacies listed from individuals, as well as payments from Royal Naval and Marine Associations and other seafaring trusts.

A whopping £450,000 comes in every year from legacies and donations – a measure of the level of respect the benevolent trust enjoys.

The charity also runs its own care home and has investments on the stock market.

The trust has no fundraising arm as such, but bodies such as the King George’s Fund for Sailors, set up in 1919, help to raise cash for all seafaring charities.

Stephen speaks proudly about the actions of Lieutenant Commander Richard New, who recently completed 12 marathons for the trust.

Lt Cdr New says that the navy can have all the hi-tech equipment in the world, but none of it means anything without happy and healthy people to use it.

But people asking for help is not always easy.

‘Very often people will come to us as a last resort,’ explains Stephen.

‘It’s not easy to say “I’m broken” or “I’m broke”.

‘There’s a very large measure of pride, particularly in people who have worn uniform.’

However, the best part of Stephen’s job has to be seeing for himself the transformational effect the charity can have on people’s lives.

He says: ‘We have a folder of thank you letters.

‘I get to see them once a month when they come through.

‘When you read some of those, you realise just how little a lot of people have and how a bit of assistance helps.’

PAYING for a new washing machine and bed mattress was the catalyst for changing one sailor’s life.

The 56-year-old from Gosport, who wishes to remain anonymous, thanks The Royal Naval Benevolent Trust for stopping him having a major breakdown.

He was left mentally scarred after experiences in the navy and then working in Bosnia as an aid worker.

After leaving the navy in 1990 and getting married, he suffered a massive heart attack at the age of 48.

With no money and isolated from society, he reluctantly asked the trust for help,

‘What they did was something very small, but it started a huge chain of events,’ he says.

‘They gave us the money for a new washing machine and a mattress.

‘Not a great deal, but when you have springs coming through your mattress because you can’t afford a new one and you are doing all your washing by hand, that money made a huge difference.’

The charity Combat Stress then put him on a six-week therapy programme. He says: ‘Over two years, with all these agencies working together, I got my finances back on track and stopped being a prisoner in my own home.’

He now volunteers at Haslar Gardens in Gosport and helps at Veterans Outreach Support at The Royal Maritime Club in Portsmouth.

THE origins of the Royal Naval Benevolent Trust lay in the Grand Fleet Fund – a fund established by Admiral Sir John Jellicoe in 1916.

At that time, he was concerned there was insufficient provision for his sailors and their families who were in need or distress.

The first donation was £50 from Lord Jellicoe himself.

Six years later, the fund’s monies were running down and the admiralty saw there was a need to cover the whole navy.

The result was the creation of The Royal Naval Benevolent Trust on May 2, 1922, incorporated under Royal Charter.

The full title, which remains today, is the Royal Naval Benevolent Trust, Grand Fleet and Kindred Funds.

Lord Jellicoe’s original idea that the administration of the fund should be substantially in the hands of those serving on the ‘lower deck’ has been carried through and remains the bedrock of the trust’s governance today.

For more information on the work of the trust visit rnbt.org.uk. Or call (023) 9266 0296 to speak to a grant administrator.

CASTAWAY House is home to several Royal Navy and Royal Marines charities.

They include the Women’s Royal Naval Service Benevolent Trust, which donates around £350,000 every year to former Wrens who find themselves in distress.

Seafarers UK has a base at the Stamshaw building, as does the Naval Families Federation.

The Naval, Military and Air Force Bible Society was founded in 1779 to distribute bibles ‘among British soldiers and seamen of the navy, to spread abroad Christian knowledge and reformation of manners’.

To this day, it continues to provide Christian literature to chaplains in the armed forces, including New Testaments with distinctive camouflage covers.

Since 1885, the Regular Forces Employment Association has been helping those who leave the armed forces find a new vocation in life.

And The Royal Navy and Royal Marines Children’s Fund provides a lifeline to many, such as family days out in times of grief.