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Find Out More About The Royal Navy Benevolent Trust

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The Royal Navy Benevolent Trust exists to provide support to Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel and their families. Every year, they provide financial assistance to thousands of members of the RNBT family during times of need. 

In order to find out more about the RNBT, Civvy Street Magazine examined their history and function.

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Where Did It All Begin?

The origins of the Royal Navy Benevolent Trust lay in the Grand Fleet Fund – a fund established by Admiral Sir John Jellicoe in 1916.  At that time, Lord Jellicoe (as he later became) was Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet and was concerned that there was insufficient provision for his sailors, marines and their families who were in need or distress.  As a consequence, he developed the idea of the Grand Fleet Fund, a benevolent fund, to be administered to a large extent by representatives from the ‘lower deck’ i.e. naval ratings and Royal Marines other ranks.  This was a major departure from the normal practice whereby the trustees of benevolent funds were generally restricted to the ‘great and the good!’. Lord Jellicoe put forward his plan at a meeting on board his flagship, HMS Iron Duke in February 1916 at Scapa Flow.

Those at the meeting included representatives from the lower deck from each ship and not surprisingly, Lord Jellicoe’s plan was enthusiastically received.  The Grand Fleet Fund was duly formed with the first donation (£50.00) from Lord Jellicoe himself.  Six years later, the Grand Fleet Fund’s monies were running down and the Admiralty saw that there was a need to expand the Fund to cover the whole Navy and also to provide a secure income stream.  The result was the creation of The Royal Naval Benevolent Trust on 2 May 1922 incorporated under Royal Charter, with a steady income provided by a rebate (a percentage) of the money expended in Naval Canteens along with donations and legacies from supporters of the Trust.  The new Trust combined the Grand Fleet Fund with a number of other similar Funds and the full title (which remains today) is: The Royal Naval Benevolent Trust, Grand Fleet and Kindred Funds.

The RNBT Family

Lord Jellicoe’s original idea that the administration of the Grand Fleet Fund should be substantially in the hands of those serving on or had served the ‘lower deck’ was carried through in the creation of the RNBT and has remained the bedrock of the Trust’s governance ever since.  The principle of sailors and Royal Marines, serving and retired, helping their peers creates a unique sense of identity within the Trust and provides reassurances that income from whatever source is channelled to those in need, the collective expression for which is: The RNBT Family

The structure is highly regarded and a visiting senior officer in the 1950’s was overheard to say:

“If I were in difficulty, I would rather have my case considered by an RNBT Committee from the lower deck than by any other court in the land.”

That’s high praise!

How Does It Work?

The Trust was originally organised around Area Committees based on the RN’s Port Areas with the Trust’s work localised to those areas with high-density naval populations.  Today’s Trust has moved on from the Area structure given the national and indeed worldwide nature of the Trust’s work with its headquarters and Grant Committee operating out of Portsmouth.  In addition to the headquarters function, the Trust operates its own ‘World Class’ 55-bed care and nursing home – Pembroke House – at Gillingham, Kent and is also the sole trustee of a 6-unit almshouse – the John Cornwell VC National Memorial at Hornchurch, Essex.  

The Trust employs about 65 full-time equivalent personnel (there are a number of part-time employees); less than 8 full-time equivalents run the head office, grant administration, finance and HR functions with the remainder employed at Pembroke House.  There is a healthy ‘book’ of volunteers, notable the trustees and those who willingly give of their time to serve on the Grant Committee and as Friends of Pembroke House.  

The Trust’s President is Vice Admiral Sir Charles Montgomery KBE, the Vice President is Philip Shuttleworth MBE and the Chairman to the Board of Trustees is Rear Admiral Tony Rix CB; Commander Stephen Farrington QGM Royal Navy is the Chief Executive.

The Trust dealt with around 3,000 individual requests for assistance in FY 2014/15, many of which were fresh cases.  In addition, the Trust continued to administer 1,000 Regular Charitable Payments (RCPs), the bulk of which are generously funded by Greenwich Hospital.  The total sum spent on benevolence through individual grants (including RCPs) was £2.3 million with £110K expended on 148 cases involving serving personnel and their dependents.

The Trust’s head office (Castaway House) accommodates and provides domestic and operational support to 3 other RN/RM Charities – The RN and RM Children’s Fund, The WRNS Benevolent Trust and Aggie Weston’s alongside the Naval, Military & Air Force Bible Society, the Naval Families Federation, the Portsmouth arm of the Regular Forces Employment Association and the southern area representatives from Seafarers UK.  The RN & RM Widows Association also operate from Castaway House so in total, 9 organisations, geared up to help those in need or distress within the serving and retired naval community, are accommodated/operate from the same building without replication or duplication of effort.  This co-location of like-minded organisations is an excellent example of the cost-effective delivery of charitable benefit.

How Can I Find Out More?

More information can be found on the RNBT website www.rnbt.org.uk or follow them on Facebook www.facebook.co/thernbt.  The Royal Navy Benevolent Trust is always on the look-out for volunteers to serve on the Grant Committee, interested?  Call 02392 690112 and ask to speak to a Grant Administrator for more details.