Sunderland Poppy Appeal collector chosen to launch 2021 drive with Prince Charles

An Army veteran and long-serving fundraiser from Sunderland was given a Royal reception after she was chosen to launch this year’s Poppy Appeal alongside the heir to the throne.

Sunderland veteran and long-serving Poppy Appeal collector Lesleyanne Gardner.
Sunderland veteran and long-serving Poppy Appeal collector Lesleyanne Gardner.

Lesleyanne Gardner has been a face of the Poppy Appeal in South Hylton, Sunderland, for almost ten years, alongside her husband Ian.

The couple wanted to ‘give something back’ after being supported by the Royal British Legion when a training accident left her seriously injured and needing support.

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And the 62-year-old was invited to Clarence House to launch the 2021 Poppy Appeal alongside Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall as the charity marks its centenary.

Lesleyann, front row, far left, with Their Royal Highnesses and the other collectors.

Lesleyanne said: “One of the reasons I collect for the Poppy Appeal is to repay the support I had from the RBL when I left the Army.

"They helped me massively, from getting a wheelchair so I could go on holiday abroad, they then provided me with a mobility scooter, which was amazing and gave me a new-found sense of freedom.

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“I love helping people and because the RBL helped me when I needed it, I see this as a way of paying it forward.

She added: " My husband Ian has been a wonderful support, he’s my husband but he’s also my best friend and we do everything together, including the Poppy Appeal.”

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Lesleyanne collecting in Sunderland.

After Covid-19 restrictions led the charity to cancel all face-to-face fundraising for the first time in its history in 2020, this year 40,000 Poppy Appeal volunteers return in force, helping to raise vital funds to support the work of the RBL.

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The Royal British Legion said its collectors have been at the heart of the Poppy Appeal in local communities for over 100 years, and each of the ten collectors who met TRH The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall represents a decade of the Legion’s history.

Nicola Meredith, North East Area Manager for the charity, said: “This year, as we mark our centenary, we are proud to be celebrating the outstanding contribution of all our Poppy Appeal collectors. Every poppy counts, which is why getting our Poppy Appeal collectors back out in local communities across the north east is so important.

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"As the impact of Covid-19 continues to leave some members of the Armed Forces community in urgent need of our help, your support is as crucial as ever.

“We cannot help them without you which is why we are urging the people of the north east to look out for their local collector and donate. Your contribution will make a real difference to the lives of those in our Armed Forces community who have given so much.

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“The RBL was formed in the aftermath of the First World War to fight for the rights of those who had given so much and come back to so little. Today, we continue to stand with the Armed Forces community, supporting them in the face of hardships, injuries and bereavements.”

In a message of support, Prince Charles said: “In November 1921, the Royal British Legion’s first Poppy Appeal took place and the nation adopted the annual tradition of placing a small red flower on their clothing to signify respect and support for the Armed Forces community, their service and their sacrifice.

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"The significance of the poppy is as relevant today as it ever was, while our Armed Forces continue to be engaged in operations overseas and often in the most demanding of circumstances.

"The simple act of wearing a poppy is only made possible because of volunteer Poppy Appeal collectors who share a common goal – to recognise the unique contribution of the Armed Forces community.

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“Last year, for the first time in its history, the RBL had to withdraw its collectors from the streets, owing to the pandemic.

"This year, we warmly welcome the return of Poppy Appeal collectors to our communities.

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"My wife and I are immensely proud to launch the Poppy Appeal in this seminal year and we invite the nation to come together and, once again, wear a poppy in support of our Armed Forces community. After all, every poppy counts.”