Poppy Appeal launched with snapshots of veterans during the Covid-19 pandemic

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Paul Davies

The Royal British Legion (RBL) has launched this year's Poppy Appeal with snapshots of veterans and volunteers as the coronavirus pandemic limits traditional fundraising work.

Social distancing requirements and shielding volunteers are among the challenges faced by armed forces charity as it launches its annual campaign on Thursday.

To mark this year’s appeal, which runs until Armistice Day on November 11, the RBL has launched a series of photographic portraits of armed forces members, Second World War veterans and Poppy Appeal collectors.

Taken in doorways, streets and windows, the photos aim to reveal a snapshot of the lives of the armed forces community during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Those featured include Second World War veteran Seymour ‘Bill’ Taylor, 95, from Colchester in Essex, who served as an Able Seaman in the Royal Navy.

He was on board the HMS Emerald during the D-Day landings, a light cruiser that shelled enemy positions threatening the invasion beaches.

This year, Bill has spent much of his time at home with his daughter Janet who has been shielding during the pandemic.

"This year has been very tough having been unable to go out, meet with friends and mark significant anniversaries," Mr Taylor said.

“However, I admire those who have been on the front line dealing with this terrible virus day to day. They have shown the same sense of duty that my generation did during the Second World War. They are the ones now protecting our society.

“So although I won’t be able to march up to the local memorial this year to remember those we have lost, I will proudly observe the silence on my doorstep and wear my poppy, as I do every year, with pride.”

Veteran Lawrence Phillips and fiancee Danielle Credit: Charlie Clift/Royal British Legion/PA

The charity said it has around 40,000 volunteers support the appeal annually, with numbers possibly dropping by approximately 30% this year.

But under the message “every poppy counts”, it is encouraging people to back alternative ideas for showing their support while raising money for current and ex-members of the armed forces who may be facing hardships, injuries or bereavements.

These include making a request through the RBL’s website for poppies to be sent in the post to be distributed among neighbours, families and friends while following social distancing guidelines.

A printable poppy is also available to download – either in colour or to be coloured in – that people can fix to the windows.

Poppy collectors Barry and Tricha Oldham Credit: Charlie Clift/Royal British Legion/PA

Free fundraising packs for supporters can be ordered online while supporters are also encouraged to do their own “virtual” poppy runs, walks or jogs to help raise funds.

More than 15 million paper poppies will be distributed at supermarkets including Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Morrisons, Aldi and Asda. They will also be available online via the RBL’s Poppy Shop website.

Cashless donation options are available through QR codes, contactless payments and a text-to-donate facility.

Collector Poppy Railton Credit: Charlie Clift/Royal British Legion/PA

A spokesperson for the RBL said some volunteers will be street collecting this year, depending on local authority and government guidelines for their region.

“The safety of the public, our staff, members and volunteers is our top priority and we are working with charity regulators and the relevant local and national authorities to ensure that all activity is safe and in alignment with both national and regional regulations,” they added.

Second World War veteran Ken Judd Credit: Charlie Clift/Royal British Legion/PA

People have been urged to mark Remembrance Sunday from home next month due to the coronavirus crisis, including being asked to stay away from this year’s National Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph on Whitehall.

A limited number of people – including armed forces veterans, members of the royal family and international leaders – will be permitted to attend the service on November 8.

It will be the first time in the Cenotaph’s 100-year history that the traditional 11am service will be closed off to members of the public.

Poppy Appeal organiser Flyle Hussain Credit: Charlie Clift/Royal British Legion/PA

The RBL’s director of fundraising Claire Rowcliffe said: “Whilst the Covid-19 pandemic undoubtedly makes running the appeal more difficult, the additional hardships it has brought about means our work is now more vital than ever.

“The pandemic has had a devastating impact on people’s livelihoods and way of life, leaving some in the armed forces community in dire need of urgent help and support.”

She added: “Every poppy makes a difference to the lives of our armed forces community.

“Whilst you may have to do something different to support the Poppy Appeal this year, every poppy counts so we’re asking people to please support us in any way you can.”