Lockdown Podcast: Adrian Bell, CEO of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity

Adrian Bell, CEO Royal Navy & Royal Marines Charity
Adrian Bell, CEO Royal Navy & Royal Marines Charity

Series 2, Episode 1

Here we are at the start of series 2 and we have a new level of Lockdown restrictions, ‘Tier 4’.

The world has continued to be turned upside down by Covid since we chatted with our first podcast guest from series one, Adrian Bell, CEO of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity.

So, we thought this would be the perfect time to catch-up and find out what he’s learned since then and how the RNRMC is meeting the challenges of the pandemic heading towards Christmas.

We hear about the importance of not only tackling loneliness, but preventing it. We also address some big issues such as the role of the state versus the role of charities; and discuss the inequalities within society highlighted by the pandemic.

Finally, taking inspiration from an article featured in the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy’s (BACP) publication ‘Therapy Today’ we ask, ‘when this is all over, will we retain the pandemic as a bad memory and go back to the way things were before the virus, or will we learn from it…?’

After chatting with Adrian, Steve Bomford from Company of Makers was then joined by Mike Davis-Marks, former Royal Navy submarine captain, for a bit of a ‘post-match analysis’.

Here’s what everyone said…..

Boris Johnson  00:02

You must, stay at home. Stay at home.

Rachel Owen  00:09

Hello and welcome to ‘Lockdown!’ Hosted by Steve Bomford with Mike Davis-Marks. Our Armed Forces operate in challenging environments. Week-by-week, we’ll explore what we can learn from their experiences.

Mike Davis-Marks  00:24

Series two Steve, that’s really exciting. Tell me about it.

Steve Bomford  00:29

It is and we are very delighted by that. We proposed to the Royal Navy and Royal Marines charity about running season two based on everything we’ve learned over the last six months or so and they rather kindly agreed to support us. And so as a reflection of that we thought, what better guest to go back to than Adrian to see, to see what he had to say about the last six months. Not of our podcast, I hasten to add, the last six months more broadly.

Mike Davis-Marks  00:59

But Adrian was your very first victim, sorry,interviewee for series one, wasn’t he?

Steve Bomford  01:05

Indeed he was, yes.

Mike Davis-Marks  01:07

That was a really good interview actually, it really kicked off the whole of the first series and it will kick off series two. I really like the Royal Navy and Royal Marines charity. I think they’re a brilliant charity and Adrian is obviously quite an inspirational figure at the helm at the moment.

Steve Bomford  01:23

Yes, I think we’re about to hear that as well. I think he’s quite interested in sort of challenging the norms and the status quo in a positive way, I think.

Mike Davis-Marks  01:33

Looking forward to hearing it, Steve.

Steve Bomford  01:38

So Adrian, I’d like to thank you for coming on the podcast for a second time and I would like to thank the RNRMC for funding season two, as well. Before we kind of get into the questions, I had to check in my calendar to see when we last spoke in terms of the podcast, when we actually did the when we did the interview, and that was on the 21st of April. Now, I don’t know about you, that seems to me like a long, long time ago. How’s it been for you?

Adrian Bell  02:09

I think you’re right. It’s a long time ago and I am amazed that it was the 21st of April. I remember doing it and I remember that well. But trying to place it in the sort of continuum of everything that’s gone on is really, really difficult actually and I think these last six months have been really hard, and I think that it’s brought home all sorts of lessons, and is still bringing home and will continue to bring home all sorts of lessons for quite some time I’ve no doubt about that at all. But it’s also revealed the scale, or some of the challenges that we all face moving forward, and I think some of that, actually is quite eye watering.

Steve Bomford  03:02

We’ve developed a little bit of a saying in terms of what working life has become, and that’s kind of make plans, remake plans, repeat. That seems to be the new sort of cycle of things, which can be quite frustrating. Especially when obviously we’re in such a, shall we say, dynamic situation i.e. everything’s changing a lot. So, really, down to business. What would you say the key lessons have been for the RNRMC and your beneficiaries since lockdown?

Adrian Bell  03:35

I’m gonna start with something that is going to sound a little bit impersonal. It’s not meant to, because it’s very important. But I think one of the things that has really come home to me is how important our financial reserves are. When I look back over my 10 years, whatever in the charity world, the amount of times that I’ve seen articles, decrying reserves, too big, whatever, not being used; and never really being given the opportunity to explain it from the charities side because journalists write these articles, publish them, they don’t bother us to speak to us and then move on to something else. And actually, the work that we’ve done around our reserves and knowing how much we needed and how much we could start to bear down on them, has proved really, really important. And that means we are in a position where we can quite happily run deficit budgets for a period of time, a not inconsiderable period of time, to ensure that we can look after our beneficiaries. If we had taken fright at some of the stuff that was written, we could have got ourselves in a position where we were spending unnecessarily for a start and we weren’t prepared for that rainy day. We were prepared, thank goodness for that rainy day and I’m speaking to you now, as I’m struggling with next year’s budget, we do our financial year as calendar. So I’m doing all the detail on that. And the level of deficit that I’m proposing to the board this year, is pretty eye watering. And in fact, directly after this, I’ve got a meeting with our subcommittee chairs to sort of go through some of that pain, to see what it’s like. But we’re in a position to do that and I think that then ties into the sort of people bit, and this is where it’s very important. Charities, in this world we now face need to be flexible and agile and for that, you need the right resources and it’s not just money, it’s people, it’s whatever else. But we need to be in a position where we can do things and it’s funny that you just spoke about planning ahead, replanning, you know, and all that sort of thing, actually, because it comes to the heart of what we try and do, which is work out how to pre-empt stuff, how to prevent stuff, as opposed to just reacting about stuff. And I think that is really important in everything, because we can see some of the effects of the last 6, 7, 8 months, whatever it is, is felt very palpably, very early. That is economic, financial, people’s pockets. Loneliness, I mean, that has been highlighted, you know, what a scourge. The fact that some areas of society are sort of left behind the inequalities that have emerged, which are really quite stark, actually. We’ve known about it, we haven’t seen it in this way and also where the pressure points are. And I take, you know, the emergency services as a classic example of where they are. And so when you look at all of this, trying to map your way through is you know, you’ve got resources, you’ve got money or whatever, how do you move in a way that will allow you to keep your beneficiaries in the right place, as opposed to reacting when it’s either the crisis breaks, or actually, the crisis has got really bad; and that’s what we’re trying to do in all of this.

Steve Bomford  07:46

Wow, I could take some lessons off you, I think. I love this idea of being able to sort of be ready for what is coming, when you kind of don’t know what is coming. But I do agree with you very much about the scourge of loneliness, it’s a terrible, terrible thing isn’t it. And technology has really been quite a positive experience and we’ve talked about this before, but in our experience of working with the wider military community, there is still a big knowledge gap and a skills gap, and perhaps more importantly, a confidence gap around using technology.

Adrian Bell  08:24

I think that’s right and I think for some people, using technology is quite challenging, and technology doesn’t replace that human piece that we need. You know, when you’re talking to somebody and you can see them sort of visibly moved, sometimes an arm on a shoulder, you know, little things like that… picking up the cues and hints from people yeah?  Because, whilst you see the face, and I can see your face now and everything like that, and I get cues and hints from that, but it’s in two dimensions. It’s not the same thing. We’ve inducted a number of new trustees, a number of members of staff, but they haven’t been in the same room as everybody else and I think those sorts of things are difficult. But when you come to the loneliness, a phone call, a video call, really, really good, really, really powerful. But actually, I think we all need the human interaction and we are doing an awful lot of work on that. We are partnering with a number of national organisations. We are using yet more top technology in that, for which I make no excuses. To try and find ways to bring people together to form virtual communities and do things differently. I mean, one of the ones we’re looking at is a thing called Sparko TV. Really, really quite interesting. I think you’ve had a bit of insight. Ian Millen, certainly, from Veterans Outreach Support has been looking at it as well, through us, and I think those are the sorts of things where we can do things to help people and if we do them early enough, it isn’t just trying to drag people out of loneliness, it’s trying to make sure they don’t get into that lonely bit beforehand, as well. And this is, you know, a large part of our work is going to be an increasingly large part of our work, that pre-emptive preventative type of piece.

Steve Bomford  10:43

Do you see any downsides to digital technology?

Adrian Bell  10:47

Yeah, I do actually. I think it gives people free range, doesn’t it? It gives people you know, it’s a bit like driving a car. You know, we can always be brave behind the windscreen and we always sort of, curse and swear, which we wouldn’t do if it was know, interpersonal, as it were. And I think, you know, we can see so much of that around and the ability to spread rumour, the ability to undermine people’s confidence in whatever. I mean, vaccinations is a classic example. And I think, how we come to grips with the balance of freedom of speech, freedom of expression and the need to actually make sure that what we’re not doing is perverse. malign, undermines society and community, and you can’t do it by making rules and laws and all that sort of thing, because human beings are human beings. But trying to make sure that the standards are there. And the people gravitate towards those standards, because it’s the right thing to do. That’s very, very difficult. And I do worry, that because it is so easy to, to say whatever you want, to do whatever you want, in these areas, that we’re losing that sense of social ownership and responsibility of how we interact with each other, both at individual levels and at community levels.

Steve Bomford  12:27

Yeah, it’s our social cohesion isn’t it? It’s breaking it up in a way that I guess no one ever anticipated. But going forward, what do you think the organisations operating in the military world, including yourselves but others as well, need to do differently to support beneficiaries?

Adrian Bell  12:46

I think we need to better understand where the challenges are and that’s very, very difficult. And who’s got responsibility for what? I think, you know, one of the things that I’ve long worried about, is that sort of social compact, that social contract between the state and society… and charities tend to fill gaps and that’s alright, to a degree. These things happen. But, how much should we rely on charity and how much shouldn’t we? And I think that in the military charity world, by the nature of military, people have a huge enthusiasm to sort things out, to get it done and that is laudable, it really is. But what is the state’s role? Does the state have responsibility for things? Who’s really holding the state or the local authority, whatever it is, to account, first and foremost? I read a shocking figure some state earlier this year, can’t remember when, about the amount of benefit money that goes unclaimed every year, and it’s a significant sum. I’m going to say it’s over a billion pounds, somebody’s going to tell me I’m wrong. It doesn’t matter. I just remember it’s a significant sum and you go, why does it go unclaimed? It’s not because people can’t be bothered to claim it, it’s probably because they don’t know about it. And so I think that we need to be within the charity sector, and certainly in the military charity sector, we need to be thinking about these things and making sure that we are really holding people to account, we are really holding the state to account. And when they say they’re going to deliver X, Y or Z, it happens. I think, and I take my hat off to the NHS, the NHS got a lot of batterings around mental health and all those sorts of things and actually is striving to fulfil its responsibilities with reference to veterans in a whole lot of areas. And I think if people take the time to look at what the NHS is doing, it really is quite interesting, and is where the state is stepping forward.

Steve Bomford  15:09

Gosh, there’s a lot to think about there, isn’t there? So, you’re also a trustee of COBSEO  I believe. Am I right in saying that?

Adrian Bell  15:18

Yeah, yes, that’s right and I’m on the executive committee there.

Steve Bomford  15:22

Do these kind of conversations come up around these sort of things in environments like that or…?  You can take the fifth, if you like, to use the American vernecular.

Adrian Bell  15:32

No, they do. Not at the sort of formal gatherings as it were so much, although we do a lot of work around the Armed Forces Covenant, which is part of the mechanism for holding government to account. But these conversations go on a lot. So I meet with the other single service charities. I meet with some of the other big providers in sort of separate cabals, as it were informal groupings, and a lot of that is about a) the challenges we face day to day, but b) part of the future, as well. So these are conversations that are going on. The trouble is, it’s quite often the conclusion is, woah, that’s a big subject, you know? And how do we start to bite into that? At the same time, when a lot of charities are having to reprioritise, restructure, and worry about what the future looks like.

Steve Bomford  16:39

Challenging times, which kind of takes me on to this… So this question came from Rachel’s, she’s a qualified counsellor and she receives, I’m going to call it a trade magazine, but it’s something like ‘Therapy Today’ and I thought it was quite an interesting question, I’m going to I’m going to read this, “It’s fair to say that COVID has highlighted many challenges…” which we’ve kind of talked about, “…within society as a whole. Will we retain this time as a bad memory…?” especially with obviously impending vaccines, fingers crossed, touchwood? “…Or will we just go back to the way it was?” What do you think’s going to happen? I mean, that’s a bit of a crystal ball for you, but I would love to hear what you have to say.

Adrian Bell  17:21

Okay. So I’m a bit of an idealist at heart, right? So let’s get, let that be the start. I think this has been something that if we just look at as a bad memory, we will not actually make the best use of it. Sometimes when you go through horrible periods in your life, actually, they teach you something, they set you on a different course, they show you what you value, what you don’t need, all those sorts of things. And I think that if we just treat it as a bad memory, put it in a box, chuck it on the shelf and go cool, thank goodness that’s over. We’re letting ourselves down. Now, I am an idealist. I look at the creation of the welfare state. I look at the National Health Service, I look at education, and a lot of that obviously came out of sort of changes made during the Second World War and planning for peace. And go, you know, yet we haven’t been through that but we’re going through something very significant. It is revealing things like the inequalities that we see around us, the regional variations as well as just the sort of economic differences, all those sorts of things. And have we got the ability as a society? Have we got the political will, and politicians who really want to get to grips with this? To go, actually, we shouldn’t just accept this as it is. We’ve highlighted, yeah, our experience has shown us some really valuable things and it’s taken this experience to ram them home I think. They’ve always been there and you know, I suppose we just sort of ignore and gloss over, and actually go, no, we got to do something about this. We’ve got to, you know, have a dream. We’ve got to find a way of getting there, might not ever get there but you’ve got to strive for things. And I just think it would be a shame. It would be a loss. If we go, thank goodness the vaccines here. I can put this horrible experience behind me and I can crack on with life as usual. Yes, a large part of me yearns to do that. Absolutely. But another part of me goes, that’s wrong. We need to tackle some of these things. We need to have the drive, the ambition. We need to regard other people and say, is this right that we allow these things to perpetuate? No. So let’s do something about it. Finding ways to do that is slightly more difficult. That I accept. That’s why I don’t think it should just be a bad memory.

Steve Bomford  20:26

I’m reminded of the phrase that I read somewhere, which was, let me think about this, get this right, is that politicians know exactly what to do. They just haven’t figured out how to get elected afterwards.

Adrian Bell  20:43

(laughs) I thought you were having a pop at me there, Steve.

Steve Bomford  20:46

(laughs) No, no no, absolutely not. I’m just thinking about sometimes, you know, five years and planning cycles? I mean, the NHS is a good example, isn’t it? A five year planning cycle and an organisation on that scale, that size? It just doesn’t really work does it? And probably some of these issues that we’re talking about are going to require planning scales of that order of magnitude. But we have an electoral system, which is very much fixed in a four/five year planning cycle. So there’s some big issues there to solve isn’t there, big issues. I’m very much on the sort of more optimistic side of things, I like to be there but I agree with what you’re saying about it would be great if it all ended tomorrow, just like that.

Adrian Bell  21:24

Yeah, but don’t forget, this country has done things, some really quite incredible things, despite the periodicity of elections and changes in direction and things like that. And it’s achieved great things. And it can do that again… …And I think, you know, we don’t have to be, as a country, pulled one way and then pulled another way and then diametrically opposed or anything like that. And so I think there is the wherewithal to tackle that. And I know that the planning cycle doesn’t quite fit. But if you’ve got the desire to do it within, then it will happen, I think, and a lot of brilliant people around who can make it happen. It’s, it’s getting that vision right. Explaining the vision, getting people buying in and getting things moving.

Steve Bomford  21:41

Yeah. Absolutely.

Adrian Bell  22:23

Good politicians needed.

Steve Bomford  22:24

Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. You may recall,  just slight change in subject now, on a lighter note I hope; in the first episode, we talked about the importance of family. In fact, this came up in many of the podcasts that we recorded. And with family in mind, how important is Christmas going to be in whatever shape or form this Christmas will take?

Adrian Bell  22:49

I think hugely important. I think it will be something that we talk about quite a lot here, actually. But I think it’s very important that families can get together this Christmas, more than ever, ever, ever before. Not all will be able to achieve that. And that’s one of those things, but I think it goes all the way back to what we were talking about with loneliness, actually, that we need to find a way where people can connect properly. We need to give the opportunity. And I know the counter arguments to allowing people together at Christmas. And I really understand that. I think one of the big issues we haven’t mentioned is, you know, the ability of NHS staff to keep going with the levels of work. And I, gosh, now I still do some work with the NHS with trauma networks and I look at some of the people in the work that they’ve been doing. And how resilient can you be? I mean, you know, if you compare it to the military, the military, you know, on operations will tend to go in for a sort of six month period or so and then move out and if you if you look at you know, First World War, soldiers were moved through the front line, because everybody understood, you can’t just keep doing it. Well, they had to, and they will continue to. So there is that argument about, gosh, are we going to break these staff, if we do it, but equally, there’s this social need to gather. And you’ve got a time that makes sense, I think to do it. And therefore, it will, you know, it will mean something and I think it’s hugely important that families have the time to gather you can’t do that for every festival. I get that and you know, we’ve had a number of religious festivals Eid, Diwali, where these things have not been able to be celebrated in the way that they can. And I think an opportunity to be taken, it’s important and we just have to hope that the consequences of that are not too dire. But the consequences of not doing it, I think they’re not worth contemplating either.

Steve Bomford  25:21

So, for those out there, for the benefit for your beneficiaries, for our beneficiaries out there, that may struggle to meet at Christmas or struggle at Christmas more broadly, is there any support? or how could they find support through yourselves?

Adrian Bell  25:37

Well, it’s a very good point, because what we’ve got to remember is, you know, the Navy is still operating come what may and I’ll start with a serving, if I might, because you’ve got the Navy still operating at stretch, and doing all the things that it’s doing. And I think for those who are separated because of service, I think it will be increasingly, you know, be doubly hard. And I think of those, I was talking to a commanding officer, of one ship that went away, just before lockdown, and then came back sort of after it was all over in the sort of summer and everything had sort of passed them by in one sense, but their families without them had gone through this, this huge challenge. So I think there the serving and the families. And I think, you know, for every everyone else in our beneficiary family how to try and look after those? I mean, this is why we do some of the programmes that we do. We do a family support programme, which is now sort of well underway, mental health programme and those areas, which are open, and actually, if people come to our website, rnrmc.org.uk, and have a look at those. And our website also has the details about how to get in touch with us. So that we can, you know, talk to people to go in to help wherever we can. Because I would like to get to a place if we can, where we can help navigate people to what they need. That’s very difficult in this world at the moment. And we’re doing some work about how, when people need help, do naturally get them to the right place that they need? And this comes back to your question. I look at it as the Macmillan nurse, you know, the person who’s by your side, hands on sort of thing, walking through this experience with you. And this is where I want to get to so that some of these things about how we help people who might need it, what is the help they need? How’s that delivered? How’s that given? That’s where we’ve got to do an awful lot of work and I suppose that goes all the way back to what I was talking about at the start of this, but it also leads me to say that, you know, you’re doing this wonderful set of podcasts and you’re going to be talking to quite a range of people in this and I think, because I really enjoyed the first set of podcasts, and I think getting the views from many different people in different walks of Naval family life, I think will be very interesting, because I think the different perceptions of different levels, different areas of responsibility, or whatever else it is, will probably teach us an awful lot. And I’ll certainly be sat listening with my notebook and everything because sometimes you hear people say things, and you go, gosh, I hadn’t even thought of that. That’s sort of passed me by whatever. And I was having a conversation with a friend, went for a walk the other day and a couple of things he said about some other stuff, nothing to do with this, and I just thought, blimey, I hadn’t sort of appreciated life like that walking in somebody else’s shoes. So I do think what you’re doing with this series, and including so many more people differently, and that sort of thing will be fascinating and certainly I think we will all learn lessons from each other. So, well done to you and Rachel for this because I think that’s, you know.

Steve Bomford  29:34

Thank you that’s very kind. We’re also really, as we’ve talked about, we’re very interested in talking to the organisations that you work with, because they’re not all military either, are they and they have very kind of specialist skills and do very specialist things. So I think that’s quite important, that we kind of say get under the skin a little bit more you know, what it’s like to be in other people’s shoes as you put it. I think that’s a very good way of explaining it. Do you want to give us any contact details, Adrian, because I think, isn’t there a telephone number as well, am I right in thinking that? Have you got that to hand? 

Adrian Bell  30:06

I haven’t…

Steve Bomford  30:07

…Not to worry, what we will do is, we will, I will find it and I will say it for you and I’ll add it in, don’t worry; and, so we can just make sure that anybody out there who is in need, who would like to, who needs some support, knows who to contact, whether that’s on the telephone, internet, email, however, and of course, you’re also part of the bigger Naval family of charities, I believe, as well aren’t you, so there are many other sources of support as well.

Adrian Bell  30:36

Absolutely and I think that’s very important. So, you know, there are a number of Naval charities and what I’ll do is, I’ll send you the links for all of them, if I might, because I think that would be extremely helpful. And if we can, if we can get that into part of the conversation, that would be really helpful, you know, at the end/at the start, whichever way round works best, would be really helpful. Yeah, so we’ll get you a little compilation.

Steve Bomford  31:03

Thank you. So what’s going to be different about this podcast is that we’re going to be producing a blog post that’s going to go with each episode, which will have the transcription so we can include lots more in additional information that we forget to mention, or think about after we’ve obviously finished recording. And as you know, we’ll be discussing this with Mike, so I’m sure lots will come up in that conversation, too.

Adrian Bell  31:23

I’ve no doubt about that at all.

Steve Bomford  31:24

(laughs) Yeah, we don’t keep the out-takes up, you’re safe, don’t worry. But I’ve just like to say thank you, once again, for coming on the podcast. I suspect we might do another one of these later on next year perhaps, I think it would be good to do that, actually, to have a little chat about what we’ve discovered, what we’ve learned, see if any of those changes that we’re aspiring to have actually happened as well. I think that’d be great.

Adrian Bell  31:51

I think it would, but also, I must thank you, the Company of Makers, for what you’re doing because I actually do think that, and I go back to what I’ve just said about, we can all learn by listening to these, because you pick up what other people think, what other people experience, what other people look for. And I think you’ll find as you go through these ones, at least I hope, that there are lessons that just sort of come out and some of them will be obvious and go, why don’t we, why don’t we get that, others will be more obscure. But this work, I think will pay dividends. It’s almost a bit like, dare I call it, ‘Living Social History’ type of thing, I think is sort of what you’re doing, if you know what I mean?

Steve Bomford  32:37

Absolutely. It’s the short story you just mentioned about being deployed before lockdown, the family still in Portsmouth say, come back from deployment six months later, when it’s all pretty much you know, it was summer and everybody’s back to normal. That must have been a very strange experience. I’d definitely like to find out a bit more about that at some stage.

Adrian Bell  32:58

Yeah, and I do think that that’s absolutely fascinating, and people who deployed to, you know, operations in the Gulf, those, you know, in the, in the bombers and the nuclear deterrent and everything around them, I mean, you know, the families….it is actually when you see, and the preparations, you just have to go through, ships have to go through to move and you know, isolating, quarantining, do this, do that, you know, to then be able to do operations. Fascinating to see and I think there’ll be some very rich material out there.

Steve Bomford  33:40

Yeah, I’ll be I will be pursuing that with you in the not too distant future. But once again, I’d like to say thank you very much for coming on the show and we’ll speak to you again soon.

Adrian Bell  33:49

I look forward to it and I look forward to all of this podcast series as well so Steve, thank you very much indeed.

Steve Bomford  33:57

That was a fascinating conversation, at least I thought it was. What did you make of it, Mike?

Mike Davis-Marks  34:02

I agree. I mean, Adrian, he gave a really great interview the first time we did this series one and I think he’s surpassed himself this time. He’s just a brilliant raconteur and a really passionate individual that’s doing some really great things for the wider naval community. I was fascinated by it all.

Steve Bomford  34:25

Yes and I think it comes across that he really does care as well and he’s actually genuinely interested in people’s circumstances and how they and the wider naval family can help.

Mike Davis-Marks  34:37

Yeah, you made a lot of really great points. But the first one was that I think you mentioned that it was the 21st of April when you interviewed him previously, and that just does seem like a lifetime away. Well, you know, what has happened since the 21st of April, and everything… the world is turned upside down. It was slightly upside down then, but you know, What a roller coaster we’ve been through since then.

Steve Bomford  35:03

Yes, I really am struggling on a personal level to have any concept of time where any of this is concerned. So things that we, myself and Rachel have done, say, you may recall, we did some interviews at the Royal Maritime Club for our crests project? That was in February of this year and when I was looking at it, I thought it was nearly two years ago. 

Mike Davis-Marks  35:22

It’s amazing, actually, isn’t it? But I think, you know, it’s been an extraordinary year, it’s been hugely challenging and I think that, you know, that stretches out time, you know, as we’ve tried to navigate our way through the choppy waters that is COVID-19. It’s been… for some it’s been horrendous for others, you know, particularly if you’re a PPE manufacturer with a good contract it’s probably been quite lucrative. But for the community that we’re trying to reach out to, I should think it’s been very, very, very difficult indeed.

Steve Bomford  35:53

Yes, I think it’s probably been a bit rubbish in some respects and I guess you try and sort of grit your teeth and get through it when it’s probably lasted a lot longer than people anticipated.

Mike Davis-Marks  36:06

Yeah and I know they’re talking about, you know, three vaccines potentially coming onto the market quite soon but we’re not out of it yet. I mean, there’s certainly light at the end of the tunnel but what we mustn’t do is be stupid between then and now… when we’ve got enough immunity to actually make this thing go away, or go away sufficiently that some form of normality can return.

Steve Bomford  36:25

Absolutely, no unnecessary risks is my advice.

Mike Davis-Marks  36:31

He made a couple of really interesting points. The first was that actually, he talks about the importance of reserves and he talked about the fact that the press are quite ready to jump on the amount of reserves that charities have, but actually the underplays the importance of reserves when they need them most, which is when the tough get going, or the going gets tough. And he said, actually, you know, we need to put money away for a rainy day, so when it rains, and let’s face it, it’s been raining, metaphorically, the whole of 2020, then you’ve got that reserve to draw upon for the people, for the time you need it most.

Steve Bomford  37:07

Yes, I quite agree. I mean, the charities do come in for a lot of stick on that front. But also, I think, you know, obviously, they’re going to be using their reserves, rightly so. I imagine it makes planning for the future, when they’ve depleted their reserves in a sort of very difficult climate for fundraising… it’s going to be some challenging times ahead for these charities, for sure.

Mike Davis-Marks  37:27

Yeah. He also talked about the importance of trying to anticipate and plan for all different scenarios, rather than just react to what’s happening and that’s very much I think, something that runs through the RNRMC all the time is actually, let’s try and prevent it happening, rather than trying to cure it once it’s happened. I thought that was a really good point.

Steve Bomford  37:49

Yes, and I would say from our own perspective, the idea that we’ve been making plans, remaking plans, on a sort of semi-permanent loop is very, very challenging, trying to achieve that, to actually make plans in what is a very, very fluid world.

Mike Davis-Marks  38:04

Yeah, he talked a lot also about what they were doing in order to try and, you know, reach out to other charities to try and work together in a collaborative way, to have a community, you know, engagement that had, you know, lots of different, you know, people operating together, so that they could sort of start to do things which were preventative rather than curative. So I thought that was really interesting. And he talked about the loss of social ownership, you know, we’ve become a Zoom generation this year, other medias are available (laughs), but you know, but behind that’s a 2D image and actually, that loss of the 3D human-to-human relationship is something that actually, particularly for vulnerable communities, like the ones that RNRMC are looking after, I think that’s quite important.

Steve Bomford  39:00

I think it’s extremely important. I mean, Rachel has been doing some workshops for residents of Agamemnon Housing, and just getting people up to speed to use the technology and having an environment in which it’s okay to ask what might feel like a really silly question, builds confidence in people. So they don’t necessarily start out like that, or indeed, they start asking questions, ‘could I use this to talk to the rest of my family?’, it might seem obvious to you or I who are familiar, but for those that aren’t, it can be a very, very intimidating world, the digital world.

Mike Davis-Marks  39:35

You asked a really interesting question, it does happen occasionally I know, that you ask interesting questions, but you asked a question about the role of the state versus the role of charity and and his answer was really interesting. He accepts that there’s always a place for charity. There will always be gaps that need to be filled, but we need to have a grand strategic, grand political debate about where the balance is between charity and what the state should do. And he was quite adamant that actually we need to challenge the state. But if they should be providing services, whatever, then we need to hold them to account to do that and not let them get away with it. I thought that was a really important point, and actually something that we ought to be taking up with our MPs if we get a chance to talk to them again.

Steve Bomford  40:28

I think we should make them listen to it, personally, I think that might be a very good idea. You know, joking aside, it’s a very, very valid point, isn’t it? Because the state obviously is often a source of income, but it doesn’t have, as it were, ‘boots on the ground’ and know what’s actually going on in people’s lives, unlike charities and organisations like that community groups that do.

Mike Davis-Marks  40:49

Yeah, you’re absolutely right. you are you also asked another good question. Now there’s two, in the podcast, I’m not sure that I can cope with all these good questions coming from you.

Steve Bomford  40:59

Do I get a medal then for this? (laughs) I’ve not a metal yet.

Mike Davis-Marks  41:02

I’ll give you a bar chocolate. Well, that will that do? 

Steve Bomford  41:05

Thank you.

Mike Davis-Marks  41:06

You look like you could need it to be honest (both laugh), No, no. But the good question was actually, you know, will this, when this is all over eventually be just a bad memory and we go back to doing what we have always done, or will we use it as an opportunity to draw upon to make things better? And his response was instantaneous, that, you know, he really hoped that it wouldn’t become a bad memory, we really hope that, and he was worrying, that we weren’t going to grab the opportunity that this has presented ourselves to do things differently in the future. And there’s all sorts of things that he was talking about, like tackling homelessness, and you know, air pollution and things like that. He really felt that actually, there was a chance to take a new direction here, where people become more important in the grand scheme of things, and not just, you know, numbers on spreadsheets and things like that. I’m voting for Adrian to be the next Prime Minister, if I’m honest with you.

Steve Bomford  42:10

I think we’d have to wait a few years for that, I’m afraid. But again, I think, I think he’s writing what he says and I think it’s important that we recognise that even if all these wonderful vaccines worked tomorrow, and everybody was able to use them, there is still everything that’s gone before, there’s going to be the economic shock that we still have to deal with, there are still many fissures that have come to light in society that will need to be dealt with.

Mike Davis-Marks  42:36

Yeah, you’re absoluetly right and no, I was slightly flippant. I mean, I don’t think Adrian should be Prime Minister. I don’t think he should lower himself to that level (laughs), I mean, he’s much more brilliant being the Chief Exec of the RNRMC. You said, I think, “Politicians know what to do, but not how to get elected afterwards.” I’ve heard you say that before, I think that’s a really good statement, it is. We are stuck in a basis where democracy, which remember is the least worst of all the systems around, still has this major drawback about actually the need to get elected overrides, often, long term, you know, thinking and strategic planning, which is a real shame, because actually, you know, that’s what we need to do. We need to be bold, and not worry about being elected.

Steve Bomford  43:25

Yes, I think one of the things that’s kind of come out of the podcast is the anxiety that people feel is due to lack of certainty, what the future holds, being able to see family members, what have you. And I think that five year cycle breeds uncertainty, you don’t know what could change with an incoming government and I think that’s a real challenge. Although I do take on board his point that, you know, we, as a country built the NHS with that five year planning cycle. So it’s not all bad.

Mike Davis-Marks  43:54

Yeah, that’s very true. But it’s evolved since in quite a considerable way. And that’s another topic for another podcast, I suspect. Talking about families, he mentioned the importance of the Christmas season coming up – and I really mean the holiday season rather than the religious festival because, you know, most people do celebrate Christmas in one way or another, even if it’s in a secular way – and how important it was for families to get together and he opined that the consequences of probably not doing that, might actually outweigh the consequences of getting together and the potential spread of the virus for a few more months afterwards. So I thought that was good. And he also, I’m on a role here so don’t stop me, he also talks about the ship that went to see before COVID became an issue and came back when it sort of dulled down a bit in the summer and wondered what all the fuss was about. But the point he made, which was really telling is that they might not have experienced COVID in the way that the rest of us have, but their families sure did, and, you know, and actually I don’t think they probably realised quite what their families have been through. So the importance of supporting the family, by the charities, is just as important as supporting the servicemen, women, or veteran.

Steve Bomford  45:11

Absolutely. Hearing you describe that again, I’m minded of Planet of the Apes, when, as you may recall, they went on a space journey and came back and things were very, very different. And I think that must have been a not dissimilar experience, you’ve obviously deployed, you’re doing a job, you’re obviously kept extremely busy whilst deployed at sea, or wherever you are and then come back and find out that the challenges that your family must have been through, education for children, jobs, I mean, the implications are very, very significant.

Mike Davis-Marks  45:43

Yeah. I can remember from my childhood reading a book by Nevil Shute about a submarine that went to sea and then nuclear armageddon happened and they came back and there was, it was quite a sad story because of course they came back and there was nothing to come back to. There was no life as they knew it and actually, I think it all ended in a poor way. But yes, you know, extraordinary really. He’s really pleased about the podcasts and he made a couple of comments about how much he’d enjoyed listening to podcast one and how much he hoped podcast two would provide some important insights into the way that people were thinking some feedback and, and how we could learn off each other, which I thought was a really good point. So it looks like podcast two, series two, has started off in a really good note.

Steve Bomford  46:32

Yes, but you’ve also got to bear in mind, Mike, that means he’s raised the bar for us. So we need to be mindful of that.

Mike Davis-Marks  46:40

Well I’m up for it, are you?

Steve Bomford  46:41


Mike Davis-Marks  46:42

Let’s look forward to the next one.

Steve Bomford  46:44

Thank you very much, Mike. Speak to you soon.

Rachel Owen  46:51

Thanks for listening.  The Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity exists to support sailors, marines and their families, for life.  If you, or someone you know, could do with some support, give them a call on: 023 93 87 15 68.  Or drop them an email on:  support@rnrmc.org.uk.  If you enjoyed this podcast and want to hear more, please subscribe.

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The Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity exists to support sailors, marines and their families, for life.

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