Saturday, 15 August 2020

British Legion branch shut due to fall in membership

British Legion branch shut due to fall in membership

THE Harpsden branch of the Royal British Legion is to be wound up after 75 years.

Organisers have chosen to call it a day because membership has dwindled from 24 a few years ago to just 18, many of whom no longer attend the five meetings it holds at the village hall each year.

Secretary John Pragnell, who joined in 1977, said some members were too old or infirm while others simply appeared to have lost interest.

The roles of chairman and treasurer are still occupied by John West, from Henley, and Roger Griffiths, who lives in Harpsden, but there is no longer a president, vice-chairman or standard bearer.

As few as two people attended recent meetings, which take place at 6pm on the second Monday of March, May, July, September and November. Meetings were put on hold when the coronavirus lockdown was announced on March 23 although the decision to shut the branch, which was opened in 1945, had already been taken.

Mr Pragnell, who served in the Queen’s Royal Guards in the Sixties, hopes to arrange a laying up ceremony for the branch standard at St Margaret’s Church in Harpsden in September as long as the restrictions on mass gatherings have been lifted by then.

He said the Henley and Peppard branch of the Legion had offered to merge with the branch but members were not interested.

Some may now make the move but he will continue with the Shiplake branch, of which he has been a long-standing member. Mr Pragnell said there were other former servicemen in Harpsden but they had shown no interest in helping to keep the branch going.

Mr Pragnell said: “It’s very sad but our numbers have been low for some time. Most of our members live in Henley while some are outside the area and others are too old to get to meetings.

“There was a time where people leaving the forces used to get a little booklet encouraging them to contact us and we used to get their details but data protection law means we can’t do that any more.

“That means we don’t find out when someone who might be interested is living in the area and the only way anybody finds out is through word of mouth.

“I’ve been to quite a few of Henley’s meetings and think they’re a very good branch but I’ll be staying with Shiplake as long as they’re around.”

The closure follows the winding up of the Harpsden and Kidmore End women’s branches in 2016.

The Royal British Legion announced that it was amalgamating all women’s sections into unisex branches to save money. This prompted uproar and an estimated 10,000 women across Britain chose to leave instead, saying the atmosphere wouldn’t be the same.

Harpsden women’s branch had 28 members, all bar two of whom resigned in protest.

Earlier this year, the Henley and Peppard branch received an award for achieving the highest increase in membership in Oxfordshire for two years running.

It now has 126 members, having recruited 24 people last year while many other branches saw a decline.

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