|Help for Heroes has become the charity du jour
||[May. 11th, 2010|04:12 pm]
This month saw the safe return of soldiers from their tour in Afghanistan after some of the bloodiest fighting in post war history. Many took part in the frontline on Operation Panther’s Claw, one of the most ambitious and some consider foolish pushes into Taliban strongholds. However, almost all of the people returning have experienced the bereavement of losing members of their regiment who become like family, entrusting their lives to one another throughout the six months.|
During the operation a massive percentage were injured, with almost half of the frontline troops requiring significant medical treatment (according to a Guardian reporter who received this information from a senior military source). These casualties were sustained during intense fighting, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or the massive strain of being in theatre. The single most astonishing aspect of this fighting is how those who were injured have coped and how positive they have been in the face of a life altering event.
My brother was serving with the Light Dragoons in Helmand during Operation Panther’s Claw. He was lucky to escape with only minor injuries after his tank drove over an IED and my family know how different the outlook could have been. As the recently retired Colonel of the Regiment, Lieutenant General Sir Roderick Cordy Simpson put it, “lucky for Charlie he is built like a brick shit house and wasn’t badly hurt”.
Many members of his regiment were not as fortunate; the Light Dragoons suffered one of the highest numbers of wounded and fatalities during their time on tour. These losses were not only felt through the regiment but throughout the UK as the faces of the deceased were plastered in every tabloid and news programme. In comparison, however, the number and faces of those injured remained somewhat of a mystery. This is where Help for Heroes has stepped in, to care for those who are to an extent away from the public eye but who desperately need support in picking themselves up from the brink to recover a fraction of a normal life.
Since being formed in September 2007, Help for Heroes (H4H) has sky rocketed into the public spotlight and raised over £33 million. The Ministry of Defence was very quick to jump on the band wagon and by the 1st October it had formally shown its support. Bryn Parry (founder of Help for Heroes) made the purposes of his charity clear: “Help for Heroes was formed to raise money to support our wounded in their long battles towards rehabilitation and with rebuilding their lives,” he said. “The money raised will enable our service charities to provide facilities which are today beyond their means.” The charity’s rise begun very early and by Christmas it had attracted support from national newspapers, such as The Sun and The Sunday Times who made it one of the beneficiaries of their Christmas appeal in 2007.
But the real leap to a household name came a year later, when two very public events took place. The first was the Help for Heroes rugby match that took place at Twickenham, featuring top rugby players from around the world. It raised £1.1m and was televised live. The most public fundraiser occurred a week later when the ‘unforgettable’ stars of the 2008 X-Factor brought out their rendition of Mariah Carey’s song Hero. The government saw this as a PR opportunity and Alistair Darling announced that he would effectively waive VAT on the single, so that more profit would be made. In the first week of its release it went straight to number 1 and sold 313,244 copies, more than the rest of the top ten combined.
So how did a charity started by a husband and wife raise on average £1 million a month? With charities already in existence that offer similar support it is very surprising that Help for Heroes is capable of being so successful. The Royal British Legion was founded in 1921 and sets out to provide financial, social and emotional support to millions who have served or who are currently serving in the British Armed Forces, and their dependents. In my view Help for Heroes has triumphed because it focuses on the younger generations. The poppy appeal is associated with the elderly veterans while newer charities like Help for Heroes resonate more with the current front liners. The H4H’s patrons show very clearly the focus on younger people, with Jeremy Clarkson, James Blunt and Ross Kemp heading up the list.
The extreme media attention surrounding the Iraq and Afghanistan war has also created mass sympathy for soldiers serving as their day to day struggle is beamed through all media by journalists posted out there. With the horror stories of the injured soldiers shown on screen in such documentaries as Wounded and Dispatches, H4H has become the outlet for those feeling helpless about the government’s treatment of our men and women.
Critics of Help for Heroes say its media attention and its fashionable status means that other charities suffer. However, the Royal British Legion’s financial statements show a 9.4% increase from 2007 to 2008 and the poppy appeal for last year raised an incredible £31 million. Within Durham the Poppy appeal fundraising increased from £1,412 in 2007-2008 and £1,887 in 2008-2009. So even though Help for Heroes raised such a massive sum others have not suffered, pointing towards the general public simply giving more to military charities then ever before.
The H4H website shows where the money is going; the most impressive would be the building of new facilities at Headley Court. Headley Court provides specialist medical officers, remedial instructors, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists and those working on the building of prosthetic limbs. Not only does the centre deal with patients with new physical disabilities, but it also deals with patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. They have donated £8 million to the building of a swimming pool and other buildings. In previous years they have had to use the public swimming pool in Leatherhead, which has not been ideal. In November 2007, soldiers were working on their physiotherapy when they were jeered at by onlookers, two women even demanding that they be removed because it would scare their children. The soldiers no doubt suffered a massive hit in confidence as they try and fit back into society. So H4H’s money is allowing them to recover in state of the art facilities and away from disrespectful morons.
H4H’s fashionable success has also reached into the Durham bubble with members of Hatfield College raising almost £13000 this term alone. Even if you don’t like Hatfield (as many of the chants at 2am will show) they still should be appreciated for their contribution to ensuring these men and women can have normal lives.
To conclude by showing how the money is spent on individuals: early this year Lt Guy Disney, 27, a family friend, lost his leg from below the knee to a rocket propelled grenade when his armoured reconnaissance vehicle was engaged by the Taliban. Since returning to the UK in July he has undergone surgery and rehabilitation at Headley Court and now he is able to walk, run, horse ride and last week he was able to march with his regiment and collect his medal.
Our soldiers should get the best. They give more, risk more, sacrifice more, and they should be given more. We can give them more. Even if you don’t agree with war, there’s a difference between supporting the troops and supporting the war. So I urge you to follow the example of Hatfield and make Help for Heroes a Durham wide fashion.