Former England international footballer and current England under-21 manager Stuart Pearce MBE joined personnel and their families at RAF Benson today to kick-off the use of a new games area for young people at the station.
The games area was funded by the RAF Benevolent Fund, the RAF’s leading welfare charity, as part of its £10 million Airplay project. Airplay is providing new social education and recreational facilities for young people at 28 RAF Stations across the UK.
RAF Benson is home to the Merlin and Puma Support Helicopter Forces, which includes almost 2000 Service personnel and approximately 2000 dependants and civilian staff. Around 600 of our families live at RAF Benson and many more live in the local community. There are currently over 200 Service personnel from RAF Benson deployed on operations and in support of operations.
Airplay will provide young people at RAF Benson with access to safe, stimulating activities and brand new sports and play facilities. This will help relieve some of the pressure on RAF families, both at home and whilst deployed. As well as the games area Airplay is also funding trained youth work staff through a partnership with 4Children to enhance youth activities at the station and the modernisation of the station’s existing play parks for younger children.
Stuart joined personnel and families at the games area for an official opening ceremony, followed by it being put to good use by children and parents for ball games.
Stuart, who is currently the England national under-21 team manager, is a strong supporter of the RAF and the work of the RAF Benevolent Fund.
He said: "It's great to be here at RAF Benson today to open this brand new games area, which is going to be a fantastic facility for the youngsters in particular.
"I'm only too aware that we live in a time when serving personnel are stretched on all sides, but it’s easy to forget that this impacts on their families too – not least their kids.
"I'm a great believer in the positive effect that sporting activities can have on young people in terms of building morale and confidence and it's great that the RAF Benevolent Fund, through their Airplay initiative, are supporting RAF families in this way."
Paul Hewson, our regional director, who co-ordinates a large amount of the support that the RAFBF gives to RAF Benson, said: "RAF youngsters frequently spend lengthy periods separated from at least one parent. Often such periods are at bases which are in isolated locations with minimal facilities.
"They also regularly move around the country from base to base, as their parents are posted by the RAF which requires young people from such families to start at new schools, make new friends and get to know new environments. None of this is easy and thus Airplay provides the significant help and support that they deserve."
He continued: "We are thrilled that Stuart could join us here today and inspect the facilities first hand. As one of the top figures in UK sport and a big supporter of the armed forces he is the perfect person to open the facility – and provide the youngsters with top coaching tips!"
RAF Benson's Station Commander, Group Captain Richard Mason, said: "It was fantastic to have Stuart here today to open the new games area and it is already making a huge difference to our families.
"With almost a third of our personnel deploying every year on operations and in support of operations, the impact on our children should not be underestimated.
"This new facility, being funded by the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund will provide them with a much needed outlet."