Members of the armed services joined local veterans and civic leaders in Belfast last night for a reception to launch the annual Poppy Appeal.
The City Hall was illuminated red as children from Glencraig Integrated primary school in Holywood sang for the arrival of the guests inside.
Launching the Royal British Legion’s (RBL) charity campaign, Deputy Lord Mayor Christopher Stalford said every poppy sold would directly benefit a family in need.
The first official poppy of 2013 was presented to Cllr Stalford by John Glover of the new RBL youth rugby team.
Cllr Stalford said: “I am delighted to be here to launch this year’s Northern Ireland Poppy Appeal in support of all our Armed Forces community.
“Every donation received for a poppy will make a real difference to the lives of Armed Forces families.”
One local Poppy Appeal beneficiary at the reception was David Smith - who served with the Territorial Army for four years and, when mental health issues saw his living situation spiral out of control, was able to turn to the RBL for support.
A grant from the charity has helped David retain his independence by assisting him to furnish a flat.
“I had absolutely nothing, so they provided me with a bed, a sofa, a cooker and a fridge,” David said.
The money from each poppy sold helps raise the £1.6 million needed by the RBL each week to provide practical help and advice to the entire Armed Forces community – including crisis grants, family breaks, benefits and money advice.
Speaking at last night’s launch, RBL area manager for Northern Ireland Brian Maguire said: “We recognise the strength of mothers, fathers, partners and children in Armed Forces families, who serve alongside their loved ones every single day, and often need practical care and advice too.
“We’re encouraging people to dig deep for the Poppy Appeal so we can continue providing this vital support to individuals whether they’re still serving, transitioning back to civilian life or have left the services; but, importantly, to their dependents too.”
The launch of the appeal in England included pop groups The Saturdays and Union J performing in an aircraft hangar at RAF Northolt.
In front of thousands of service families, the stars put on a two-hour gig at the west London base.
George Shelley from Union J said: “Personally, the poppy means a lot to us.
“I have a brother serving in the Royal Marines, Josh’s dad was in the Navy for ten years, and Jaymi’s uncle was in the RAF and fought in the Falklands War.”
The Poppy Girls sang the official appeal single, The Call (No Need to Say Goodbye).
See Morning View, page 44