Forces Charities

Veterans Devastated By COVID-19 Closure Of RAF Benevolent Fund Centre

Princess Marina House has welcomed veterans of all ages since 1969, but is closing amid safety concerns for vulnerable members.

Elderly Air Force veterans have told Forces News they are devastated after the RAF Benevolent Fund announced it will close one of its largest care and respite centres.

The charity says keeping "vulnerable" guests safe after the coronavirus crisis at Princess Marine House, near Worthing, would prove too difficult.

Since its establishment in 1969, the seaside venue has enabled veterans of all ages a chance to meet and socialise.

Stanley Northeast was going to celebrate his 100th birthday at Princess Marine House in just five months.

He is a former RAF electrician who landed on Sword Beach on D-Day. 

Questioning the lack of Government support required to keep the facility afloat financially, he said:

"We've done our bit in the war, why's it got to go like this?"

His son, Mike, said the situation displayed "short-sightedness," adding that charities "play a major role in this country - of picking up what the Government doesn't provide".

In July the RAF Benevolent Fund announced the centre was to shut permanently as the safety measures needed to operate it safely after COVID-19 were not deemed viable.

Partially-sighted Reginald Thurman is 92 years old is a former RAF airframe mechanic who served just after the Second World War, servicing Spitfires, Hurricanes and Mosquitos.

Before developing skin cancer, Mr Thurman used Princess Marina twice a week to meet his friends and enjoy the afternoon entertainment.

"It's devastating," he said, reflecting on the news.

"Now I've got no friends at all."

RAF veteran Reginald Thurman is one of those who regularly visited Princess Marina House.

Princess Marina House costs nearly £2.3 million each year to run, but the income of the Benevolent Fund's is expected to fall by more than a quarter in 2021 because of the pandemic.

However, the charity's Chief Executive told Forces News the decision to close the centre is more than just financial.

"We can see no way to safely open the Princess Marina House, probably well into next year, because these are vulnerable people that are probably - most of them - still shielding at the moment," Air Vice-Marshal Chris Elliot said.

The potential cost to veterans of allowing the venue to operate as it has done in the past means the fund has had to "consider the costs" of keeping an empty facility open.

Responding to criticism over the decision not to use more of the charity's reserve finances, AVM Elliot insisted safety was the main factor in the closure.

She also added the fund has been running at a deficit for the past two years, reserves already being used.

The fund is not the only charity suffering the effects of the coronavirus crisis.

The RAF Association RAFA recently announced it is to close two of its respite centres in Northumberland and Weston-Super-Mare because COVID-19 has reduded income and investments by £10m.