SSAFA volunteers & staff recognised in Queen's Birthday Honours
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At the Queen's Birthday awards five longstanding SSAFA volunteers & staff were awarded for their long and dedicated service, two nominated personally by General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue KCB CBE, Chairman at SSAFA. These were Richard McKenzie, Branch Treasurer for Argyll and Bute branch who received an MBE and James Cooper, Caseworker for Canterbury and Herne Bay Division in Kent who received a BEM. Also awarded were Yvonne Ritchie, caseworker for SSAFA who recieved a BEM, Sue Roberts, a key member of the Community Support Team at the RAF High Wycombe who has been awarded the AOC 38 Gp’s Commendation and Alan Tait. Alan, chairman of SSAFA's Sussex branch has been volunteering for the charity for 16 years.
Here, we look at their extraordinary stories to see exactly why the Queen has decided to honour them.
James Cooper completed 22 years in the Army, leaving as a sergeant after service in The Royal Sussex Regiment and The Queen’s Regiment over 30 years ago. Despite the injuries he sustained at regimental Pioneer Sergeant and living through very difficult circumstances since leaving the Forces, he has voluntarily and entirely at his own expense helped other veterans and their families from all branches of SSAFA. It is the range and depth of his selfless dedication to this work that is truly remarkable, particuarly the last 15 years where he has been an outstanding SSAFA caseworker, each year helping more than 100 service people and their families. He also created an Armed Services Advice Centre at a community hall on a local council estate in Canterbury from where he provides help and advice to service veterans across South East Kent, each year supporting more than 200 people with housing, health and financial problems, sometimes representing them in court or at other formal hearings.
No less remarkable is Richard McKenzie - a truly exceptional volunteer who has given outstanding service to SSAFA for 23 years. As the sole treasurer for the branch and its six divisions he has to operate in the extreme geography of Argyll and Bute: some 7000 square kilometres, including 32 inhabited islands, mountainous terrain and many seawater lochs; division areas and clients are widely scattered, and financial management is further complicated by lack of broadband and mobile telephone signals in the more remote parts. It is only through his dedication, compassion and determination that Richard supports more than 50 dispersed clients each year; yet he remains a calm source of wise counsel for those cases of especial complexity. His incomparable knowledge and experience of financial and casework management, combined with mastery of computerised banking ensure the ready availability of money to meet clients’ needs; in one instance, whilst in the wilds of Norway he transferred funds to a client’s account in Scotland within 24 hours of the request.
Although not actually nominated by SSAFA, we were thrilled to hear Yvonne Mulholland (known as Yvonne Ritchie) had been awarded a BEM as Treasurer for the Not Forgotten Association, for Voluntary service for veterans. She is involved in several service charities, but at SSAFA Northern Ireland, she works as the Secretary of the Funds and Awareness Committee and is also a dedicated caseworker.
Sue Roberts has been formally recognised for her outstanding work through the award of an AOC 38 Gp’s Commendation. Sqn Leader Sarah Tallack was really keen that Sue receive some formal recognition for the hugely positive impact that she has made in her first year, particularly considering that, when the citation was written, she wasn’t even SSAFA permanent staff.
In Sarah's own words 'she is a shining example of the value of having on-Unit SSAFA support available, and the contribution that she has made to the welfare and wellbeing of a large number of personnel on this Unit has been significant. She is a credit to your organisation, and I consider that we are very fortunate to have her here on our Unit, as a key member of the Community Support Team.'
Last but certainly not least is Alan Tait, chairman of the Sussex branch, which raises more than £500,000 to provide financial and practical support former members of the armed forces in more than 900 cases per year. The cabinet office said Mr Tait, who was the chairman of Sussex (Northern) Local Justice Area, pursued his difficult role in the merger of SAAFA’s West Sussex and East Sussex branches in 2002 with ‘remakable diligence, diplomacy and perserverance’. His efforts have seen the Sussex branch regularly placed in the top four branches in the country, said a cabinet office spokesman. He also created the Trefoil fund to speed up the process of supporting those in need and has served as Crawley Hub Chairman for the ABF The Soldier’s Charity since 2013.
Huge congratulations to all of them - thank you for your service to SSAFA and our Armed Forces family.