Axminster branch of the Royal British Legion - onwards and upwards after nearly folding
By Philip Evans
3rd Feb 2023 | Local Features
Axminster branch of the Royal British Legion, which celebrated its centenary last year, is enjoying a resurgence after nearly folding and has been nominated for a national award.
The following resume of how the Axminster branch has raised the profile of the Royal British Legion, has been provided by the Chaplain, the Reverend Geoffery Walsh.
After the untimely death of the chairman, David Warner, through COVID and the resignation of the committee secretary, the Axminster Branch was in need of guidance. With the help of the County Chairman a member, former mayor Mervyn Symes, volunteered to cover the chairmanship for two years and his wife, Jacqueline, agreed to act as secretary. COVID and close down hit the branch hard although monthly Zoom meetings did keep the cogs oiled. To keep the branch together the Chaplain, the Reverend Geoffery Walsh, issued a weekly 'Reflection' during the lockdown.
At the 2021 AGM with a new chairman, secretary and 'young' blood on the committee, the branch has seen a resurrection, a branch which is now seen as being proactive rather than just reactive. Over the past couple of years, the membership had fallen through natural sources but this year the membership has risen by 28 per cent which is giving the branch impetus to go forward and upward.
Following on from our successful Centenary year in 2021, the branch have been extremely busy promoting the Legion, and during the past 12 months have actively been promoting themselves around the town and local area.
The branch, as yet, does not have a formal website but has a very good following of all ages on their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages; linked to the Town Notice Board, the popular Town Crier's page and Axminster Nub News, thus promoting interest in the wider community.
QR Code posters, have been distributed and displayed around the town in shop windows. The QR Code links the enquirer to the branch's internet information pages, giving them both national and branch information. Already It has proved successful, gaining 80+ local followers and membership interest.
Since the 2021 AGM members of the branch have met monthly in a popular local Community Café, thus enabling those who find it difficult to meet in the evenings to socialise with others. So popular has this been over the year that this has been expanded to twice a month. In this period of special concern, it is helping combat loneliness both in our veterans and the community. With a RBL symbol prominent on the table, it has given an invitation to other customers to come and ask questions and some to join the group. In the summer members also organised a monthly informal Friday evening at one of the local public houses to raise their profile to others in a different setting.
In June last summer we joined forces with the RBL Kilmington and the Axminster Women's Section and manned the RBL tent at the Axe Vale Show, a two-day event with the use of a County RBL gazebo. Being blessed with good weather and hundreds of visitors, our presence raised our profile in the community as well as raising funds.
At the beginning of November, during Poppy Appeal the branch was granted a free pitch in Axminster on Market Day and as such, with the stall and volunteers their profile was raised as well as valuable funds for the Earl Haig fund. Many people stopped and chatted to them. People that had never known that Axminster had had a branch prior to this year are certainly now aware. Their presence in the Market managed to signpost a couple of people to the support they required.
This coming year it is planned to be in the Market once each month. This means that they will be available and meeting four times a month, i.e. 1st Wednesday: Morning Coffee; 2nd Thursday: Market Day; 3rd Wednesday: Morning Coffee; 4th Thursday Evening Meeting.
As Christmas approached, because of the branch's presence in the Market place, they were invited to have a stall at the town's Christmas Light 'Lighting up' ceremony. In spite of the torrential weather the branch, along with other stalls, moved into the parish church with their stall and standard.
The branch also entered into the spirit of Christmas by entering Christmas Tree competition in the parish church along with all the local organisations and businesses
POPPY APPEAL & REMEMBRANCE
The Poppy Appeal involved the Honiton Army Cadets and their Adult volunteers. They paraded in Axminster in the morning and then Honiton in the afternoon. The cadets were eager to answer questions from the public, both young and older, strengthening the theme of that morning's service centring on youth. The cadets were a credit to their unit adding a real sense of occasion.
An Act of Remembrance at 11am on Armistice Day itself, has included over the past few years, representatives of all the seven schools in the area, both primary and secondary, where children from each of the schools have an opportunity to help the Chaplain lead the service. The schools bringing with them handmade Poppy wreaths or Crosses to be laid at the War Memorial and the sixty plus children, during the sounding of the 'Still', mark in the Garden of Remembrance with named Poppy Crosses, those of the fallen of the town.
The Axminster branch hold a very successful annual Poppy Window Display in the town. Shops and businesses get involved to be crowned the "Best Axminster Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal Window", the winning premises displaying an engraved silver salver. The branch is looking to expand this next year by delivering flyers to all businesses to include new shops and cafes recently opened. And to ask them to display stickers in their windows stating they are supporting their local RBL branch.
This coming year shops and businesses are to be approached to accept "Blue Light" Discount Card in support of veterans and serving personnel; (at least one business has already embraced this.)
The Axminster Branch actively supported the Axminster Women's Branch in their centenary year, which included an Act of Remembrance at the War Memorial and a wreath laying in memory of their recently deceased president, a WW2 veteran. This was followed by a fitting church service. This coincided with VE Day commemorations and celebrations which fully encompassed the meaning of the RBL.
The standard was paraded at the Axminster Memorial Service for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The branch consider it privilege and duty, to honour the life and example of a wonderful Monarch, our Patron and a WW2 Veteran.
Grateful thanks and recognition needs to go to the detail of their WO1 (rtd) Parade Marshal, Lee Davis. With his help, planning and direction of the parade and the Act of Remembrance was considered a testament to the impact they have had on the Axminster Community this past year and for this the Axminster Branch is extremely proud.