Originally published in JesmondLocal – November 11, 2016
Newcastle’s central Royal British Legion branch, on West Jesmond Avenue, hosted a Poppy Appeal launch party on Sunday November 6th.
The evening was billed as the start to the week’s fundraising leading up to Remembrance Sunday. Veterans and current servicemen mixed with community members and poppy sellers, enjoying food, drink and live music.
Peter Milne, the Royal British Legion community fundraiser for Durham, Sunderland and North Teesside, told JesmondLocal that 40 Royal Signals servicemen have travelled up to Newcastle to sell poppies for 10 days, with the aim of topping last year’s total of £98,000.
He described the event as a chance to “rethink remembrance”, saying that many people associate the Royal British Legion with being “an old boy’s club”. The event was a chance for younger servicemen to mingle with older veterans.
Milne also spoke of the need to spread awareness of the Royal British Legion’s role and how it can help through support not just for veterans but also current personnel and their dependents.
JesmondLocal also caught up with Staff Sergeant Barry Rizza, who leads the fundraising effort in Newcastle. The Jesmond branch have been hosting this launch party for 12 years and Rizza has been a part of it for 11 of them.
He echoed Milne’s comments about integration between the generations and said it was a chance for the young lads to “learn a lesson” from their elders. He also said there were veterans from “World War Two, national service, Northern Ireland, and the Falklands”.
Over 12 years, Newcastle poppy sellers have raised £400,000 and this year they have raised £60,000 with a target of £150,000. Rizza spoke of the aim for constant improvement and said that every year has exceeded the previous year’s donations.
Corporal Jay McAnespie, one of the Royal Signal’s poppy sellers, described every donation as “humbling”.
McAnespie, having returned from Afghanistan in 2013, spoke of how the Royal British Legion helped him get his car repaired, to enable him to continue his work. He spoke of the need to spread awareness about even these seemingly menial things that the Legion can help with, saying it has the power to “turn lives around”.
The night continued with various speeches. Firstly, from Invictus Games gold-winning medallist Gareth Golightly who gave thanks to everyone in attendance and also to the Royal British Legion for the support they have given. He also told of how he is setting sights on the Tokyo Paralympics in 2020.
The club chairman George Henderson, a Second World War veteran, welcomed all in attendance and thanked them for their support. He applauded the diversity, nodding to members of the Islamic community who have been selling poppies, and extended an open invitation to everyone to become a member of the club and help keep it running.
He ended his speech by advertising that “the beers are cheaper than up the road.”
The Royal Signals’ poppy sellers will be at various places throughout Newcastle over the coming weekend.
Jesmond’s Remembrance Sunday service will be held on November 13th at St Andrew’s Cemetery on Tankerville Terrace from around 10:30am.