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Stalwart worker ready for poppy appeal launch
Boxes brimming with Remembrance Day merchandise are stacked waiting to be despatched to their destinations.
Across from the distribution unit on a business park on the outskirts of Bradford city centre, the administration team are busy coordinating the logistics involved in running Bradford and District’s Poppy Appeal.
This year, and for the first time in nine years, the city will host the county-wide launch of the appeal. The city’s Mirror Pool is expected to be turned into a sea of handmade poppies, created by local schoolchildren as part of the celebrations.
For Barbara Allsopp, the event is the launchpad of an appeal she remains so passionate about.
The 63-year-old from Holme Wood is carrying on a family legacy. Her parents, Sam and Gladys, were forces sweethearts, having met in the Royal Artillery, and from being six-years- old Barbara was brought up with the Poppy Appeal.
She recalls putting the poppies together in the days when they didn’t come assembled. Today she has a team of 40 volunteers who give their time – service above self is a motto every one of them acknowledges – putting the red symbol of Remembrance into the boxes, collecting the money and pitching in with any other task needed to be done.
Reaching into a drawer for her paperwork, Barbara runs a finger down the lists of boxes to go. In the 13 years since Barbara followed her father into the role of Poppy Appeal organiser, the operation has significantly grown with the introduction of all manner of poppy-themed merchandise, hence the expansion into a second unit across the way.
Boxes of wreaths and crosses for every religion to remember sit amongst tea towels commemorating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, poppy-themed jute bags; lanyards; wrist bands and even plastic poppies to emblazen vehicle bumpers.
“I don’t think there is anything now that we don’t sell,” says Barbara.
In addition to the merchandise, Barbara and her volunteers have to distribute 90,000 poppies to schools, supermarkets and other retail outlets throughout the city and district. No wonder it is run like a military operation.
But Barbara and her team are conscious every penny they raise can be life changing for the servicemen and women and ex-service personnel and their families which the Royal British Legion supports for the rest of their lives.
Barbara explains they can kit out homes for servicemen and women who have nowhere to live; they fund adaptations for those with disabilities and can offer support for the families of those killed in combat.
Betty Gill saw first-hand the benefits of the poppy appeal funds while working in her previous capacity as a welfare officer for the branch. “You came out of the war and so many people wanted help. Even after I came here as welfare officer there were First World War men and it was poverty,” recalls Betty.
The 92-year-old is one of the branch’s oldest volunteers. The youngest is 47 indicating the need to encourage young people to become involved in organising the appeal.
Betty was 27 when she joined the branch in the 1940s. She came into the organisation as a member of the Legion’s women’s section after serving in the ATS in the gun operations room during the war.
Betty says the servicemen and women returning home today receive more financial support than when she initially joined the organisation and believes media coverage has played a part in raising the Royal British Legion’s profile and, subsequently, boosting Poppy Appeal funds.
Barbara believes the wars in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan have also raised awareness of the campaign.
Despite the people of Bradford having less to give in the recession, the city’s Poppy Appeal still managed to raise more than £70,000 last year – topping the previous year’s total of £65,000. Barbara recalls when she joined they were collecting around £20,000.
“It has gone up and up because they want to remember them,” she says, referring to those who sacrifice their lives for their country.
“Like I always say, they are the most generous people are the citizens of Bradford. They come up trumps for us every year, they are absolutely fantastic and it’s not just the grown-ups but the kiddies as well. One little boy came with a money box. He’d been putting pennies and tuppences in and said he wanted to give it to the Poppy Appeal.
“He emptied it into our tins and I said to his father it is lovely that kiddies do that, it means so much because they are learning about it in schools and when they come up to you and say ‘this is for the Poppy Appeal’ it’s tear-jerking.”
The countdown to this year’s appeal – due to launch in the city tomorrow – got under way when Barbara handed over the first poppy to the Lord Mayor of Bradford, Coun Dale Smith, at City Hall yesterday.
For more information about Bradford’s Royal British Legion or to find out more about the Bradford Poppy Appeal call (01274) 726020.