Community hero honoured by National Lottery for supporting elderly veterans in pandemic

·5 min read
Claire Wright and Chris Squires have worked tirelessly to help elderly veterans across Greater Manchester
Claire Wright and Chris Squires have worked tirelessly to help elderly veterans across Greater Manchester

A Trafford resident has been recognised and honoured by The National Lottery and Repair Shop host Jay Blades for her efforts during the coronavirus pandemic for making food deliveries and providing reading materials to elderly veterans in her community.

Claire Wright, 46, who lives in Stretford, Greater Manchester with partner Chris Squires, 37 and children Katie, 19, and Tom, 16, runs a charity called Trafford Veterans. The project aims to reduce inequality and loneliness by assisting those most vulnerable, by setting up a small group of volunteers to help within Trafford.

Her fundraising and campaigning efforts have earned Claire a lasting tribute in the local community, in the form of a bespoke bench, distinctively designed by BBC Repair Shop's Jay Blades, which has been placed in the grounds of Trafford Town Hall ahead of Remembrance Day.

The charity worker is one of 13 ‘Unsung Champions’ across the UK being recognised for their time and efforts in supporting some of the most vulnerable in communities during the pandemic.

“I’m ex-Royal Navy and former police, and five years ago my partner and I needed some support. He’s a former soldier and we found that there wasn't really any kind of support,” said Claire, speaking as The National Lottery revealed that almost half of people (49%) feel, that notwithstanding the hardships of the pandemic, one of the positives to emerge is the sense of community spirit and 58% have an increased appreciation for community workers (58%).

Claire and her charity help reduce inequality and loneliness by assisting the most vulnerable veterans in Greater Manchester
Claire and her charity help reduce inequality and loneliness by assisting the most vulnerable veterans in Greater Manchester

“It was difficult to know where to go to access the help that you need sometimes after leaving the services. So we decided to set up our own support group, and really, it was about providing that camaraderie and banter and being able to signpost people to the right organisations, like mental health, employment, different food bank vouchers, jobs and things like housing.

“So, we started with a veterans’ breakfast club where we had about 30 join us at the first one, and at the last count, which was in February, we had over 117, including World War Two veterans.

“We encouraged the cadets to take part, which was young and old mixing, so that then developed into a series of activities, because we had volunteers come to us and say ‘my hobby is quite therapeutic to me’ so we set up a model-making and a craft group.

“We’ve got an allotment, a walking football team and we had a food share, a coffee morning and a games club. And then we had a minibus to do trips to different groups and different places.

“As well as that, we did quite a lot of outreach work - if somebody came to us that had just maybe split with their family or had just moved into the area and didn’t know anybody, we’d be able to support them by getting them white goods, or maybe they needed crockery or kitchen stuff.”

In some communities the actions of a few have made life bearable for many and Claire is just one example of the thousands of people and projects across the UK who have received National Lottery funding in order to support communities during the Covid-19 pandemic.

National Lottery players contribute £30 million a week to good causes around the country, many of which are supporting the most vulnerable in communities across the UK during the Coronavirus crisis.

“You don’t know how much the National Lottery recognition means “added Claire. “The bench will be somewhere we can go and reflect and remember - Remembrance is a big thing to us because we’re veterans. We can remember lost loved ones; lost family and it will be lovely.

“It’s just so nice that somebody actually has said ‘do you know what, guys? Well done’. We’re overwhelmed to be honest. I’d like to thank all of our volunteers - without them, we wouldn’t be where we are.

Claire's commitment to supporting elderly veterans have been commemorated with a bench - placed in the grounds of Trafford Town Hall
Claire's commitment to supporting elderly veterans have been commemorated with a bench - placed in the grounds of Trafford Town Hall

“We’ll keep going because that’s what we’re made of. We’ll continue to support the veterans’ community - where we are in Trafford there isn’t another group that’s doing what we’re doing for all the veterans, so we’re quite fortunate.

“I don’t know what the future holds but whatever it holds, we’ll adapt. There’s a saying in the military - ‘improvise, adapt and overcome’ and we just apply it to everything, to be honest. There’s always a way, no matter what gets thrown at you. There’s always a way to deal with something.”

This increased appreciation for people who help others in their community, has led to a greater desire from the public to honour them. So much so, that 12 times as many people would rather buy a drink for a local charity worker than an A-list celebrity.

Jay Blades said: “Like most of us, I have witnessed inspirational acts of selflessness and kindness this year as people have adapted their lives to help others. It has been an honour to get to know the 12 people whose work is being honoured today with a bespoke bench being placed in their local area.”

Dawn Austwick, CEO of The National Lottery Community Fund said: “For 25 years The National Lottery has helped make amazing things happen, but never in such extraordinary times. People and communities have found themselves facing myriad challenges and pressures but have still found the passion and drive to support each other in so many ways. These bespoke community benches are a fitting tribute and show that their incredible work has not gone unnoticed and is in fact recognised, valued and inspiring others more than ever before.”