Sonning villagers rally to save British Legion branchBy Caroline Cook
May 31, 2011
The Sonning branch of the Royal British Legion has been saved from closure after willing volunteers stepped in at the final hour.
It was feared the branch would have to close after losing its chairman, president and poppy collector due to medical reasons and people moving away.
But villagers rallied round at an emergency meeting at Pearson Hall in Sonning on Wednesday, May 18, and agreed to step forward to keep the organisation going.
Geoff Barnett, who has served as chairman for the branch for 12 years, formally resigned at the meeting as he will soon be moving away from the area.
He first stepped down two years ago but agreed to stay in the role to prevent the branch from having to close, known in the Royal British Legion community as laying up its standard.
He said: “If we had not found people to take over I would have left here with an awful conscience.
“It is quite a big part of the community in Sonning. We always get a tremendous level of support from people and they have come up trumps once again.”
Long-serving member Shaun Sheppard will be taking on the role of chairman although Mr Barnett will still be providing help and guidance to help him settle into the role.
The president of the branch will also change later in the autumn with Colin Pierce handing over to Brigadier David Eccles.
Mr Barnett said: “I am 75 in 10 days and it is time someone younger took over. After 10 years you need some new blood and new ideas.
“We have been very successful as a branch in spite of the problems and over the period I have been chairman we have doubled our membership.
“We have got enough to keep us going and certainly to continue the custom of parading on Remembrance Sunday and marching to church.”
The branch has also had to recruit a new co-ordinator for the poppy appeal due to former Malcolm Geater stepping down because of medical reasons.
Mr Geater has been in the role for eight years and last year helped organise a collection, which raised £15,000 from the local villages.
Mr Barnett said a lady from Sonning had agreed to help with the poppy appeal although she is profoundly deaf and so another member of the local branch has agreed to assist.
He said: “We have no shortage of collectors but it’s someone to organise it all and count the money which is no light task. Last year they had nearly 300 red poppy boxes to count and they have got to go round distributing them to people that have agreed to collect and then collect them all at the end.”
The Sonning branch is still looking for volunteers to help where they can and anyone interested in getting involved should contact secretary Mary Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.