Making a difference

How the Legion makes lives better.

Not all families have an inspirational person at their heart, keeping all that is precious together with the help of the Legion. This one does.

What better time for us to receive our second family than Remembrance? Introducing the Dacks – Stuart, Megan, Niamh and Isla from Colchester.

Put forward by the Royal British Legion’s welfare team, we were delighted to welcome them and settle them into their cosy and quiet cottage in Wiveton, their base for the next few days, where they could relax and spend time together, away from the difficult time they have had following Stuart’s sixteen-year career with the Army.

Joining at 15, graduating to the rank of Sergeant and completing three tours of Afghanistan, Stuart left the army with a diagnosis of complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Not being prepared for life outside service and being exposed to sights and sounds many people couldn’t comprehend, means it is all too easy to encounter problems with adjusting to life on civvy street.

The Royal British Legion has supported the Dacks financially whilst Stuart overcomes his mental health problems and returns to work and have, bit by bit, assisted in all the areas they can including emotionally supporting Megan. As Megan herself says, “We could not have got through the last year without the Royal British Legion”, and she is determined that one day, she will find a way to repay the kindness her family has been shown.

Being first on most people’s lists, they headed off to Holkham Hall for the day enjoying their family passes kindly provided by the Holkham Estate where the girls enjoyed the activities and the play area.

Stuart enjoyed the solitude of the beach and dunes and lost himself in a joyful game of jumping off the dunes with the girls. We have read studies on ‘Eco-therapy’ and how this can improve one’s mental health and wellbeing and we were struck by how this simplest of activities was the one that Stuart relished the most and that made a huge difference to him.

On to Pensthorpe where wildlife and playing activities, kindly donated by Pensthorpe Natural Park, went head-to-head for attention and the girls took full advantage of both; collecting stamps on a trail and playing were Niamh’s favourite things.

Doodlepots kindly gave a session of therapeutic decorating of pottery and even Stuart joined in, studiously painting his tile. Lunch was provided by a kind business in Sheringham and the family made time to relax. Isla and Niamh loved the woodburner back at the cottage and were absolutely delighted to see a wild deer in the garden, insisting on leaving it some cereal for its breakfast.

Sunday marked Remembrance Day and with a large turnout at The Harbour Room, the occasion was observed with solemnity and respect as ever but this year’s post-service was made a memorable one as Megan had asked to explain to the audience just why the respite breaks are such a vital lifeline and to highlight how buying a poppy can actually change lives.

Not realising quite how emotional the room would become, Megan began by anticipating peoples’ questions: do I make a difference when I donate, attend an event or get involved with the Royal British Legion? Where does the money go and why is it important or relevant? She was, she said, here to answer those questions.

By candidly and openly letting us know the background of her family and how immensely proud of Stuart she was, Megan described how the Royal British Legion were helping with Stuart’s mental health problems by having him referred to specialists and advisers and helping him gain control of his financial and physical situation.

She went on to describe how much difference the weekend break and the activities had made to her family and that without the Legion’s support, Stuart would not be alive today, her children would be hungry and disadvantaged and Megan would not have had the support she needed to keep her family together. She finished by thanking everyone and encouraging them to continue what they were doing.

Touched by such a brave and honest speech, the audience responded with an equal amount of applause and tears with several people coming forward with offers of help and accommodation.

Just before the family left on Monday, they wanted to thank us for everything. Megan said they, “made lots of amazing memories and it was great to experience the activities that had been organised for us”.

We pointed out that we also had them to thank as they made us realise how much difference can be made by offering truly deserving people a break and also for making us even keener to continue our mission.

So, thanks to you, Stuart, Megan, Isla and Niamh, the Dack family, you’re an inspiration!