Celebrating our clients: The Royal Engineers Association

Published by Susan Robinson on 20 May 2021

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The Royal Engineers Association (REA) is the Regimental Association of the Royal Engineers. They share a common goal, ‘service not self’.

Ian Sidebottom is a retired officer with The Royal Engineers. He travelled through the ranks from apprentice private to major serving Queen and country across the globe. He continues to serve as Corp Treasurer of the regimental charity The Royal Engineers Association.

From the Regiment’s historic home in Chatham, Kent, he shares the role The Royal Engineers Association plays in helping serving and retired personnel, and the impact the global pandemic has had on its activities.

The Royal Engineers Association is one of six charities that together manages the Corps heritage, museum and mess headquarters, education and training, fostering esprit de corps, and providing financial assistance to the regimental family. It is the one of the Corps’ oldest charities, established in 1968.

“People may expect the number of people we help to get smaller every year as veterans from the Second World War pass away,” says Ian. “But that is not the case. Soldiers who served in Northern Ireland and Iraq turn to us for help, as do serving soldiers and their families that might be struggling today. We are not just a service for retired personnel.”

As with many military charities, The Royal Engineers Association holds no member requirement. Reservists, regulars and even those who served for just one day in the Royal Engineers can receive its full support should they need it. Support is available quickly with minimal layers of bureaucracy.

The charity is funded through its Days Pay Scheme, where serving soldiers are encouraged to commit a percentage of a day’s pay to the charity each year.

“Queen’s Regulations, the bible for the army, allows regimental charities to operate a days pay giving scheme,” explains Ian, “and it generates £1m in revenue every year with around 97% of serving Royal Engineers personnel contributing.

“Those regulations also state that 50% of our income must be distributed back to retired and serving members in benevolence, and soldiers want to know how their money is being spent.

“We spend a lot of time briefing soldiers on the charity, produce a yearbook and a magazine, The Sapper, six times a year. God willing, soldiers will never need the charity – it’s there for people to their right and left – but it is good to know that it is there should the need arise.”

In addition to its financial support, The Royal Engineers Association fosters esprit de corps – activity that builds pride and develops that all-important sense of family amongst serving soldiers.

Ian Sidebottom, Corp Treasurer, The Royal Engineers Association

“We do this through sponsoring our elite athletes, particularly those on the verge of Team GB selection, and through supporting adventure training,” explains Ian. “It is an important part of who we are and what we do.”

The charity fills a void where government cannot, whether that is a specialist wheelchair for a disabled child of a serving soldier, retraining grants or contributing to a new retirement village on the edge of Maidstone for vulnerable individuals.

“Our longevity is down to the support we provide and spending soldiers’ money wisely,” says Ian. “If our members are content with how their money is being spent, then they will continue to support The Royal Engineers Association.”

Global pandemic

Like many charities, The Royal Engineers Association has not been immune to the effects of the COVID pandemic. Staff quickly made the transition to working from home and the charity is likely to adopt hybrid working patterns when restrictions are lifted.

“The pandemic has forced us to rethink the way we reach out and engage with our members,” says Ian. “Some of our members would prefer to meet remotely or speak by phone – they find it easier to discuss their problems that way. Offering members greater choice in how they engage will be one of the take-aways from the past 15 months.”

Financial support for the charity has not dropped away with serving soldiers as committed as they have always been. The pandemic has offered a renewed opportunity to speak to younger recruits on how the charity can provide support to serving members.

“We are expecting the financial assistance we provide to increase as the effects of the pandemic bite, particularly when the furlough scheme ends,” says Ian. “Family members may find themselves without work or struggling to make ends meet and we can help. Members will often ask for one thing but on speaking to them we can flag and offer assistance across many other areas.

“Operational roles for the Royal Engineers are now returning, as is elite sport, and we will once again make operational tour grants to help those on tour and families that are left behind. Our support to the Corps athletes is also returning.”

Kreston Reeves

Kreston Reeves provides a wide range of support to The Royal Engineers Association and has done for 12 years. Whilst the charity is often required to put its work out to tender, the team at Kreston Reeves have always come back as its preferred adviser.

“It is important to us to have a comprehensive and professional audit,” explains Ian. “That audit is shared with the Corps so it can see how we operate – it’s there to explain to soldiers how their one day’s salary is spent. It’s important that we account for those contributions and the Kreston Reeves audit is a key part of that accountability.

“Kreston Reeves not only understands the charity sector but also the support and guidance we need, and that is invaluable. The team is flexible and accessible and will always fit in around our activities. They are always on hand to provide general advice and have the technical expertise when more specific questions or issues arise. They have also provided excellent training and support to our trustee board.”

The relationship is one that runs deep with The Royal Engineers Association having seen Kreston Reeves “youngsters grow and develop”. There is, says Ian, a friendship as well as a professional relationship.

“With Kreston Reeves we have a constant drumbeat,” explains Ian. “They keep us up to date with the information we need and that might be relevant, and we appreciate that.”

A sapper family reunited
After 18 months, Sapper Taletawa and his wife have been reunited with their two daughters, thanks to funding from the REA.

Serving in 39 Engineer Regiment, Sapper Taletawa and Ruci his wife have been based in Kinloss for close to two years. While they settled into life in Scotland, the children lived with their aunty in Fiji. Plans were made and flights booked to bring them to the UK via America in September 2020. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the family’s transit visas through the US were denied. This was devastating news, made worse when the flights could not be refunded. Initial funding was lost.

After many months of planning and a second round of funding towards visas and plane tickets, it is a joy to finally see this family together again. On 13 February 2021, the children arrived with their aunty on a flight via New Zealand.

Spr A Taletawa said: “On behalf of my family I would like to thank the REA for their generous support in getting my kids over, even with the pandemic and the previous incident that happened.”

Funding was awarded from the REA benevolence fund, with additional support from ABF – the Soldier’s Charity. The REA is proud that we could help reunite this family in the UK.

This year Kreston Reeves is celebrating 200 years of history. We are using the significant milestone as an opportunity to celebrate our clients, our colleagues, and our communities! Find out more

"Kreston Reeves not only understands the charity sector but also the support and guidance we need, and that is invaluable. The team is flexible and accessible and will always fit in around our activities. They are always on hand to provide general advice and have the technical expertise when more specific questions or issues arise. They have also provided excellent training and support to our trustee board."

Ian Sidebottom, Corp Treasurer, The Royal Engineers Association

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