Remembrance Day 2020: Inside Surrey’s Poppy Factory

The Poppy Facory in Richmond. Image by The Poppy Factory

The Poppy Facory in Richmond. Image by The Poppy Factory - Credit: Archant

The workshop in Richmond not only plays a key role in the annual Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal but also in the wellbeing of military veterans.

Regimental, commemorative and civilian wreaths on the factory wall. Image by Claire Saul

Regimental, commemorative and civilian wreaths on the factory wall. Image by Claire Saul - Credit: Archant

At this special time of remembrance, 45 million paper poppies are purchased across the nation in recognition of those who gave their lives for us. Around 7.6 million of those Remembrance poppies will have been created by hand at The Poppy Factory in Richmond, where production first began in the 1920s.

Year-round, a 35-strong team of disabled veterans and their dependants, home-workers and volunteers diligently and dexterously assemble these iconic floral symbols, along with one million Remembrance symbols for the Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey and 139,000 elegant wreaths and sprays for use by members of the Royal Family, for military organisations and memorial events.

Wish Lloyd overcame years of serious personal challenges to thrive in the Royal Engineers before injury forced him to leave. Civvy street presented him with a new raft of personal difficulties. Thankfully a friend directed him to The Poppy Factory.

“This place has given me the time to regain my strength,” says Wish as he skilfully assembles one of many wreaths he produces throughout the working day. “I started here in October 2017 and on Armistice Day 2017 I was at the Royal Albert Hall marching in front of The Queen.”

Wish Lloyd. Image by Claire Saul

Wish Lloyd. Image by Claire Saul - Credit: Archant

This very special production line provides a shared and meaningful experience for its workers, along with plenty of familiar camaraderie. There is a constant buzz of activity, heightened twice a day with visitors arriving on the factory’s popular guided tours. Teams of volunteers from local businesses and organisations. such as Surrey County Councl, are also often to be found hard at work.

Yet this is not the sole remit of The Poppy Factory. The Petersham Road premises are also the hub of the factory’s remarkable Getting You Back to Work programme, which provides personalised support to assist ex-Forces men and women with physical or mental health challenges to return to meaningful work and fulfilling careers. The lives of over 1,000 veterans have been changed since the launch of this programme in 2010.

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SCC team at work. Image by The Poppy Factory

SCC team at work. Image by The Poppy Factory - Credit: Archant

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It is estimated there are at least 20,000 wounded, injured or sick veterans of working age in the UK who are struggling to get back into work after leaving the Armed Forces. Individuals might struggle with complicating issues such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or depression, alcohol or substance abuse, homelessness or breakdowns in their family structure.

Callers managing to take that allimportant first step of contacting The Poppy Factory are referred to one of the organisation’s regional employability consultants, who determine the individual needs of the veteran and match their skills to meaningful opportunities in their local job market. The personalised support provided by the consultants includes interview coaching, career planning and help with the veteran’s CV and job applications.

Over 70 per cent of veterans supported into work through the scheme remain in work for 12 months or longer, a significantly higher success rate than other services.

The Duchess of Cornwall hosts a reception in her home at Clarence House in 2018 for the Poppy Facto

The Duchess of Cornwall hosts a reception in her home at Clarence House in 2018 for the Poppy Factory supporters, volunteers, veterans and staff. Image by Ian Jones - Credit: Ian Jones

In September 2018 The Poppy Factory Patron, HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, hosted a special reception at Clarence House to celebrate the milestone of 1,000 wounded, injured and sick veterans who have been supported by the charity. The Duchess added her message to those resulting from the charity’s summer campaign urging people to write or post a good luck message for a veteran on their first day in their new job. She also met several ex-Service personnel aided by the charity. Amongst them was Chris O’Donnell who served in the Royal Navy, where he received the Queen’s Commendation for Brave Conduct. His experiences led to the development of PTSD.

“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do in life and I needed some help and The Poppy Factory helped me to get back on track. They helped me look for a career that would help with my mental health and for opportunities that were right for me to get me back into a meaningful place. They have done an outstanding job and I can’t thank them enough for their help and support. They opened up my eyes to what I can do and not what I cannot do. The Poppy Factory is a special place. I’m not the wealthiest of people but what I can give back, I give back.”

We can all give something back to our armed forces, past and present and by supporting organisations like The Poppy Factory, we can actively help with their future, too.

The Poppy Factory can be found at 20 Petersham Rd, Richmond TW10 6UR. Tel: 020 8940 3305

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