Faced with 12 weeks of self-isolation or shielding for many of our members, who might be over 70 or managing a health condition, and then Lockdown for everyone else, the Association ramped up its communication with Members. An interim bulletin of The Lioness, (our in-house Member’s magazine) was very quickly put to press in order to reassure Members that despite the staff working from home it was very much business as usual for the charity as well as to launch our Buddy Buddy Scheme.
The Buddy Buddy Scheme was launched to highlight the support that already exists within the charity that exists to ‘Support Women who Served/Serve’, and to extend that support beyond just our Membership. The Buddy Buddy Scheme links ATS and WRAC veterans with one another or with a servicewoman still serving in order to have friendly telephone calls or webchats during this challenging time. We put a post on the Army Servicewomen’s Network FaceBook page and were delighted when so many women currently holding down careers in the army got in touch and asked to be involved. A telephone call or webchat between two women who have the common ground of having served in the Army could make a real dent in someone’s loneliness.
The Association did not want VE Day to go unmarked and so we ran a ‘giant’ Zoom for Members to access either on Zoom or FaceBook Live, through which we could broadcast to potentially thousands. This was tremendously successful and gave the Vice-President the perfect opportunity to speak to our Members directly. Reassurance has been critical during this period, especially as in early March we had to make the decision to postpone the AGM and unveiling of the WRAC Statue into our plot at the NMA. The event was to be the culmination of a 2 year-long campaign by Members to gain NMA approval and raise funds for a statue to represent women who served in the WRAC between 1949 and 2019 and would stand alongside the ATS Lady.
Celebrating VE Day in this way went some way towards masking the disappointment we had all faced. The Zoom also presented us with another opportunity to publicise the Buddy Buddy Scheme. Anne Cook, a veteran and Member of the Association, came online and spoke with enthusiasm about the scheme. She had been talking to 2 Buddies on the telephone since Lockdown began and in particular had enjoyed hearing their stories about VE Day itself. She said that she was going to carry on with her telephone calls after COVID19 and finished by saying that the Buddy Buddy Scheme “was the most wonderful thing to come out of this Lockdown.”
Communication being key to the work of the Association during Lockdown leant itself to our podcast project. The memories of our ladies who have served, especially those who served with the ATS during WW2 deserve to be treasured. The podcasts are available to listen to through our website: https://wracassociation.org/pod/
A taster of what was to come was delivered through the VE Day Zoom with a question and answer session between the Association’s Social Media expert, Tanya, and Jonathan Jacob the Podcast Producer.
As always the more you talk about something the more it snowballs; and so as a result the Buddy Buddy Scheme has grown and grown, we have had some great press interest, and more podcasts are to be recorded both as part of our own series but also as part of Tessa Dunlop’s Behind the Frontline series, which can be found at: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1047673
Branches of the Association across the country have continued in the spirit of the Association’s motto – Gentle in manner, Resolute in deed – and slogan – Supporting Women Who Served / Serve. Lockdown and socially isolating has not prevented our Members from staying in touch and reaching out to those stuck at home. Branches have been holding their regular meetings on zoom, sharing virtual cups of tea/wine/etc, Bingo and quizzes keeping our Members occupied and entertained as well as shopping for one another and now visiting one another in their gardens or nearby parks.
Of course, the ATS and WRAC Benevolent Fund has continued to support female veterans in their time of need. We remain flexible and responsive to the challenges facing both beneficiaries and caseworkers. Lockdown has not hindered our ability to consider and award grants in a timely manner.
So when we say it’s been ‘business as usual’ for the WRAC Association it’s been more of the same business but delivered differently; staff, Trustees, Area Coordinators, Branch Chairs and Secretaries have been creative and innovative in order to keep the Association communicating and connected. The next story to look out for is Joan Rich, a 101 year-old ATS veteran who has set herself the challenge of walking 102 circuits around her local park before her 102nd Birthday in September. BBC Look East have already highlighted her efforts and local Members of the Association have lent their support whilst keeping socially distanced. And in the meantime Joan is enjoying written correspondence with her ‘Buddy’ Wendy.
So, as you can see – the WRAC Association, and all elements of it, have risen to the challenges and opportunities that Covid-19 has presented. We are still here; we are organisation open to any female who served, or still serves, in the Army; we are still planning for the future; still connecting women, of whatever age; and still Supporting Women Who Served / Serve.