British Empire Medal for SSAFA France branch secretary

Lesley Blake, with a career including the Royal Air Force and the European Space Agency, is the secretary of the French branch of SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity. She was awarded the British Empire Medal in His Majesty The King’s Birthday Honours for services to British Veterans in France.

Lesley – who says of herself “I was a teenager in Bournemouth in the ‘Swinging ‘60s‘ and I’m now in my ‘quieter’ ‘70s!” – lives in Lot in the southwest of France. She and husband Ian, late the Royal Corps of Signals, moved there in 2003 to enjoy a more laidback lifestyle after Bahrain and Germany, and a return to the south coast of England where she worked for an international bank in Poole.

She says:

“[Ian and I] joined SSAFA in 2007 and, working with the Castillonnès team over many years, organised AGMs and helped with book swaps, coffee mornings and jazz evenings.

As the organisation grew to cover the whole of France, in 2010 the role of branch secretary was split and my colleague Chris Isles took on the role of casework co-ordinator while I became admin secretary and later, training co-ordinator.”

SSAFA France volunteer caseworkers, supporters, and the committee are scattered throughout the country – which is around twice the size of the UK – and have made good use of Teams and other technologies to support the many veterans there who need assistance. Estimates put the figure of British veterans and their dependants in France at around 12,500.

Keith Cima, SSAFA Overseas Regional Chair and Chairman SSAFA France, adds:

In addition to the geographical complexities of working across such a large country – which requires a lot of chivvying and charming across the whole of France – Lesley’s role as branch secretary is also complicated by the fact that she has to work with French authorities as the branch must conform with French law.

Keith notes that Lesley is

“… the vital bridge between this diaspora and SSAFA Central Office in London. She is at the centre of a team of volunteers pulling together support for veterans and events with her usual blend of humour, charm, and a willingness to engage fully.

Throughout some 14 years now as branch secretary, Lesley has remained committed and effective, and it’s safe to say that branch administration would fail without her whole-hearted engagement.

The last word goes to Lesley, who says:

I’m happy in my role and enjoy the good rapport with my fellow SSAFA France and Central Office colleagues, and I’m very honoured to receive the British Empire Medal.

In fact, I was completely stunned when I was told and actually still can’t believe it!

SSAFA provides support to the military community – serving or veteran, and their families – in the UK and overseas. To learn more about how to volunteer, fundraise for, and to access assistance, search for “SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity”.

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