The BFBS Big Salute annually raises much-needed money for military charities who provide support for serving personnel, veterans and their families.
Last year's winners have been revealing how their grant has helped them look after those who serve.
In an annual tradition, BFBS staff and audiences take on fun and sometimes testing challenges to raise as much money as possible, with 100% of all cash raised going into the fund – running costs are not deducted.
- BFBS Big Salute fundraising gives a boost to military charities
- What is the BFBS Big Salute?
- How can you get involved?
BFBS is a military charity and broadcaster that entertains, informs, connects and champions the UK Armed Forces. It is also the parent company to forces.net.
Money raised from the previous year's fundraising activities pays for grants of up to £10,000 for specific projects which benefit regulars, reservists, veterans and their families.
Beneficiaries of BFBS Big Salute grants must be registered charities whose work helps the Armed Forces community.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made fundraising difficult since 2020 due to how Government-imposed restrictions have affected traditional fundraising challenges like bake sales, marathons and so on.
Despite this setback, BFBS staff and audiences raised £65,000 which was granted to 11 military charities for projects designed to benefit the Armed Forces community.
The BFBS Big Salute 2021 grant winners were:
- Army Widows
- Beyond the Battlefield
- BLESMA The Limbless Veterans
- Blind Veterans UK
- Launchpad (AF&V Launchpad Ltd)
- Royal Naval Association Wear Branch Sunderland
- Rugby for Heroes
- UK Veterans Hearing Foundation
- Veterans in Communities
- War Widows' Association
Some of the charities have been speaking to BFBS, the Forces Station, about how the money they were given has benefited the people they look after.
Erskine is Scotland's largest veteran charity and has been looking after veterans since 1916 with four care homes and one veterans' village. The BFBS Big Salute granted them £5,000 to help buy recreational materials and equipment for Erskine's Activities Centre in Bishopton, near Glasgow, as they reopened after the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions. The centre supports veterans aged between 22 and 102.
Erskine's members benefit a great deal from taking part in their favourite hobbies and exploring new activities with like-minded fellow veterans.
The centre's activities include art classes, genealogy, woodwork, music tutoring, IT training, holistic therapies and mindfulness sessions. Debs Dickson, Erskine Centre Manager, spoke to BFBS the Forces Station broadcaster Mark McKenzie, about how the charity has used the £5,000. She said:
"We created a bushcraft group. Our veterans would go out into the estate and do wood whittling.
"Typical military dudes who built a big base camp in the woods.
"A lot of the money provided the equipment."
The veterans also used the money to fund a project which saw them refurbishing old benches which had been bought by families to honour and remember their loved ones.
Blesma, The Limbless Veterans
The military charity was set up after the First World War and has helped more than 62,000 limbless and wounded veterans since. The BFBS Big Salute granted them £5,000 to fund a new virtual at home/online and physical activities project.
The money granted has helped 240 Blesma members, widows, partners and family members enjoy several different activities including virtual allotment kits for growing vegetables; weekly online and over-the-phone book clubs; six-week virtual yoga sessions adapted for all abilities; virtual afternoon tea groups with veterans and families receiving hampers to make their own cream teas and many, many more.
Activities like this help to reduce isolation and loneliness, increase mental and physical wellbeing and stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns.
Blesma Outreach Officer Colour Sergeant (Retired) Darren "Daz" Fuller, whose British Army career ended abruptly after an accident in Afghanistan ripped his right arm off below the elbow, spoke to BFBS the Forces Station broadcaster Liz Mullen about how the charity has benefited from the BFBS Big Salute grant.
He said: "Once we went online with the help and support of the money that was donated, it meant that our membership was now coming together from across Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
"[The money raised] has been absolutely massively important because everything that we've mentioned and all the activities and online stuff wouldn't have been able to happen without donations like that."
UK Veterans Hearing Foundation
The military charity supports veterans who struggle with an often-overlooked injury in the service-leavers community - hearing loss. They help with hearing aid funding plus Tinnitus and mental health support. The charity was granted £5,000 to buy amplifiers that work with top of the range hearing technology and help them set up a 'Buddy Programme'. The scheme sees veterans volunteer their time to help to alleviate social isolation among service leavers who experience significant hearing loss and other difficulties.
Chloe Johnston, Internal Business Development Manager for the UK Veterans Hearing Foundation, spoke to BFBS the Forces Station broadcaster Joe Carden about how the money raised was also used to buy specialist amplifiers for telephones to help veterans feel less isolated during the Coronavirus pandemic lockdown. She said:
"COVID has affected the veterans more than anything here because being isolated at home, not being to hear, not being able to pick up that telephone and have a conversation with their family or friends has had a great impact.
"We had phone calls all through the COVID pandemic, really crying out for this help because their hearing was affecting them more than anything."
Beyond The Battlefield
The charity Beyond the Battlefield was formed to look after ex-servicemen and women in Northern Ireland and Ireland. The £5,000 grant helped them rent a room to offer a 'Meet Up Eat Up' veteran's club where ex-service personnel receive regular one to one contact, group conversations and encourage better mental health in a less formal, open environment.
Funding for projects like this is vital because many veterans can go under the radar if they stop interacting socially. Robert McCartney, Chairman of Beyond The Battlefield believes the charity's mission through this funding is to create communities of listening around veterans and to ensure this living history is never forgotten.
Rachael Price caught up with Chief Executive, Annemarie Hastings, to see how the funding has helped. She said:
"The funding from BFBS has been vital to the veterans that we cater for here and try to support.
"It brings them out to have a meal, have breakfast, catch up with their old buddies.
"We actually realised on the Christmas veteran's breakfast that it was definitely inter-generational in terms of the youngest veteran there being 27-years-old and the oldest being around 73.
"It led on to all sorts of conversations with like-minded people and that's important to veterans – to talk about their history and for the young ones to talk about their future as well."
Army Widows Association
The volunteer-run organisation and charity was awarded a grant of £5,000 to go towards the running of a respite weekend for 60 widows.
Many members of the Army Widows Association believe that social events with others who have experienced the same grief can sometimes be just as good as or go alongside professional counselling sessions.
Sadie Baldwin is a widow who considers the people she has met through the Army Widows Association to be more like sisters than friends. She spoke to Richard Wyeth, BFBS the Forces Station broadcaster, about how invaluable donations from charities like the BFBS Big Salute are, saying:
"Having a group of people that I can go to with questions, with worries and being face to face with them, having a cuddle, a cup of tea, they just hold you together when you're on your own. It's so needed for everybody."
Blind Veterans UK
The charity helps blind former servicemen and women lead independent and fulfilling lives by supporting them with in-depth expertise, experience and a full range of services. They have been offering physical and emotional support to vision-impaired veterans since 1915 and were awarded a grant of £10,000 to provide specialist equipment to 1,299 blind Royal Air Force veterans.
Nick Caplin, Chief Executive of Blind Veterans UK, spoke to BFBS the Forces Station broadcaster Gini Carlin about how support from the Big Salute has helped those who rely on the charity every day, saying:
"You gave us £10,000 which has helped us to provide computers or devices to help read digital information that can help our RAF members ... to be able to access digital information more easily.
"Our world is increasingly digital so the support of Big Salute has helped us to make that a reality for our RAF veterans which is just been fantastic."
The charity provides accommodation and other support so that homeless veterans can make a successful transition from the armed forces to civvy street. It was awarded a grant of £9,100 to set up a homeless veterans’ cycle club and buy equipment to enable veterans to be more sociable and get exercise.
David Shaw, founder and CEO of Launchpad, spoke to BFBS the Forces Station broadcaster Mark McKenzie about how the money raised by BFBS audiences and staff has been put to good use, saying:
"It's been absolutely brilliant - they've got 10 mountain bikes, a trailer which goes with the minibus and they use it to get out and about and really to get people out and doing something different and not just thinking about themselves ... and being social.
"It's really important that some of these veterans who ... lost jobs, lost families and so on start getting engaged a bit more and that leads to them wanting to train and go get jobs and so on."
Sunderland Royal Naval Club
The Sunderland Royal Naval Club was awarded a BFBS Big Salute grant of £8,000 to help refit their outdated 1960s kitchen. However, work had to stop at the venue while they waited to secure planning permission from the local council to install an extraction unit to an outside wall.
Once the refurbishment has finished, the club plans to host veterans breakfast clubs at weekends. For some veterans, this may be the only hot meal they receive that day.
Ian McNay, Vice Chairman of the club, spoke to Chris Kaye, BFBS the Forces Station broadcaster, about the unforeseen hold-up, saying:
"We have a lot of reunions ... but we have no facility to offer them meals so the idea was we would get some funding to do a refurbishment of the galley."
Rugby For Heroes
Rugby for Heroes has worked with the rugby community for a decade to raise funds and awareness for former service personnel who are making the transition to civvy street. They were awarded £5,000 from the BFBS Big Salute to fund their 'Transition Through Rugby' courses for up to 14 service leavers. The qualifications learned will enable a service leaver to offer something to the rugby community where they choose to live and start to develop connections with people.
Lt Col Andy Wilde spoke to BFBS the Forces Station broadcaster Jo Thoenes about how Rugby For Heroes used the BFBS Big Salute grant, saying:
"In late October last year, the charity ran its first course during the COVID period and ... they've added another layer and some of the £5,000 went towards that which is mental resilience and mental health training and advice for the course attendees as they come through."
Veterans In Communities
The East Lancashire based military charity supports those who have served in the Armed or Emergency Services and their families, who are having difficulties with returning to civvy street or just want to socialise with like-minded people. The charity was awarded a grant of £2,953 to help host a new social group for veterans in the Metropolitan Borough of Middleton.
The project helps to reduce social isolation and loneliness which can lead to improved engagement. Beneficiaries feel listened to and supported which in turn helps to increase their self-esteem and confidence.
Amanda Walton, Veterans In Communities CEO spoke to BFBS the Forces Station Broadcaster Natasha Reneaux about how the BFBS Big Salute grant has helped their beneficiaries, saying:
"It's an incredible donation and we're so, so grateful and so thankful for this because we didn't want to stop [the social group] in its tracks.
"It's about retaining those connections that had already been made and moving forward into the future. You've given us a real solid base."
War Widows' Association
The War Widows' Association helps widows of armed forces personnel and their families. In 2021, they marked 50 years of supporting widows and the BFBS Big Salute helped them do this with a £5,000 grant.
They held an event for 96 widows at the Churchill War Rooms with the oldest guest being 103-years-old and the youngest being 12-years-old. The common bond for them all is that they all have someone to remember.
Deanna Selby, a widow and volunteer, spoke to BFBS the Forces Station broadcaster Alex Gill about the important work the charity does, saying:
"The War Widow's Association is a club that nobody ever wants to join but once you are in it, you're so thankful to those people who work selflessly and diligently to keep it going."