In the early 1940s London, and cities and towns across the UK, were subjected to devastating bombing raids as the Blitz brought the Second World War to our shores. It was a terrifying time that tested the mettle of Britons, but it was one that also saw acts of kindness and generosity that became synonymous with wartime Britain. Indeed, it was donations from members of the public to support the bereaved families of firefighters killed during the Blitz that led to the formation of the charity that eventually became The Fire Fighters Charity we know today.
The London Fire Service Benevolent Fund, as it was known then, was formed from an initial donation of £24, but the fund became a focal point for members of the public wanting to show their gratitude for the work of the fire service during the war, and it was eventually nationalised in 1943 to become the Fire Service National Benevolent Fund (FSNBF). By 1944 the Fund had extended its support to cover the fire service itself and by the end of the war it was also caring for almost 1,400 fire-service orphans, supported by grants and allowances. As peacetime came, the work of the Fund continued to diversify and this dedication to the fire service was recognised in 1953 when Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II became the Fund’s Royal Patron, a position she holds to this day.
The year 1965, meanwhile, marked another milestone for the Fund as its first recuperation centre, Marine Court in Littlehampton, opened its doors to beneficiaries. Harcombe House in Devon followed in 1981 and in 1995, two years after the fund marked its Golden Jubilee with a reception at London’s Guildhall, attended by the Queen, Jubilee House in Cumbria opened, offering rehabilitation and nursing services to beneficiaries. In 2008, the decision was taken to rename the Fund, relaunching it as The Fire Fighters Charity, the charity we know today.
Now in its 75th anniversary year, the Charity remains dedicated to the UK fire community, building on its long history to provide a broad range of physical and psychological wellbeing services to thousands of beneficiaries a year. From psychological therapy to residential rehabilitation programmes and community-based support, the Charity launched a new Strategic Plan in 2017 that sees it aiming to support more people, over the coming three years, in new and innovative ways.
One key area of forthcoming activity will see the Charity radically expanding its mental-health support services. In the wake of last year’s tragedy at Grenfell Tower and the terror attacks in Manchester and London, awareness of the need for mental-health support for our fire-and-rescue service personnel – and all our emergency services – has been heightened. However, the Charity has seen an increasing demand for its mental-health services for some time, and enhancing the psychological therapy and mental wellbeing services that its beneficiaries are eligible to access has been central to its onward plans for some time.
The Charity announced recently that its Devon-base at Harcombe House, Chudleigh is, for example, set to become a dedicated Recovery Centre offering mental-health and wellbeing services for individuals, couples and families. The centre will be initially funded following a successful bid for funds from the LIBOR awards, but the Charity has further ambitions to extend well beyond this and is keen to ensure that Harcombe House becomes a centre of excellence for mental health in the near future.
The Charity’s anniversary year has also seen it launch a year-long fundraising campaign – #My75Miles – through which it is challenging its supporters, beneficiaries, members of the public, employees and volunteers, to take on their own 75-mile challenge. Participants have all year to complete their 75 miles, and they can do so any way they wish. Whether running, swimming, cycling, rowing, scooting or pogo-sticking, the open-to-all challenge is completely up to each individual or team, with the Charity simply asking all participants to fundraise a minimum of £75.
You can register to take part today, and can complete the challenge as an individual or group by visiting the #My75Miles website. Just search ‘#My75Miles’.
For more information, go to www.firefighterscharity.org.uk/my75miles