The Battle of Britain Memorial Trust cares for the National Memorial to the Few, a clifftop tribute to the men who fought the Battle of Britain in 1940. Despite its name, the National Memorial receives not a single penny in public money, either from central or local government.
As well as looking after the site and preserving the memory of the fewer-than 3,000 men who saved this country from invasion, the Trust is committed to telling their story and educating young people about the bravery and sacrifice of the men Churchill called ‘the Few’.
The volunteers who make up the Trust have worked hard over the past 30 years, firstly to erect the Memorial to those who fought so bravely for our freedom and, since then, to develop the site and the experience it offers. A replica Hurricane and Spitfire, the Christopher Foxley-Norris Memorial Wall and, more recently, The Wing, a modern visitor centre featuring The Scramble Experience, have all been added.
Now, though, their efforts to remember the Few and teach young people about this important part of the nation’s history face a major setback, with the COVID-19 pandemic having a huge impact on the charity.
With The Wing and car park closed to visitors, the Trust, which faces running costs of some £240,000 a year, now has no income. The shop is shut, The Scramble Experience is shut, the café is shut and the car park is shut.
Even in a good year, the Trust relies on donations and a ‘Friends of the Few’ membership scheme, together with talks and special events, to make up the difference between those income streams and its outgoings. Now, although the Trust has worked hard to keep the outside features of the site open, including the clifftop Memorial, so that visitors on foot can pay their respects, every event has been cancelled.
Given the setbacks and challenges facing the men of the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain, the Trust has been determined to fight on during the battle against the coronavirus. It has organised Facebook Live events from the site, created lockdown material for families to enjoy and kept supporters on board with the latest developments.
The situation, though, is bleak. Even if the Memorial is allowed to open in mid-July it is very unlikely that the number of visitors would generate enough to cover this year’s running costs – and preparing the site to open safely has itself generated extra costs.