Gloucestershire Homes for Veterans ambassador Tony Raybone
PUBLISHED: 14:38 03 February 2020 | UPDATED: 14:52 03 February 2020
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Tony Raybone has a distinguished history of charity work and now helps provide homes for former services personnel who are having a hard time in life
This year marks the 75th anniversary of VE Day - and when better to remember the loyal service given by the Armed Forces.
Tony Raybone is an ambassador for Gloucestershire Homes for Veterans, run by national homeless charity Alabaré. Up to 12 veterans can be housed in two Gloucester city homes where they receive support with all aspects of their lives, from counselling and retraining to job applications.
Tony and his wife Amanda - a lawyer - have a distinguished history of charity work, including support for Combat Stress and Walking With The Wounded. In 2018, they organised Gloucestershire Salutes in Gloucester Cathedral, marking the centenary of the end of the First World War. Nearly 700 people took part.
During the height of the Bosnian War, the couple drove to Split on behalf of War Child, delivering generators, flak jackets and radio equipment: "A memorable and sometimes fraught experience.
"We are the lucky generation, which has never been called on to fight for Queen and Country, the raison d'etre behind my charity work," Tony says.
Where do you live and why?
We live overlooking the beautiful Newmarket Valley in Nailsworth - and we live there by choice.
How long have you lived in the Cotswolds?
For 40 years. After university, where I studied biology and agronomy, ICI sent me to carry out field trials - luckily, to the Cotswolds. Later, I was posted to Australia. My role? To present to hardened and experienced bush farmers new farming techniques! (A steep learning curve for me as a mere lad of 24.) Back in Gloucestershire, I set up an arable consultancy, travelling the length and breadth of the Cotswolds. I've seen huge changes over the years. Today, using GPS, for example, a farmer will know exactly whether or not fertiliser is needed, which cuts down waste. I have the utmost respect for our farming communities which, in many cases, are not truly represented by popular television programmes. The reality is much more blood, sweat, tears and soil.
What's your idea of a perfect weekend in the Cotswolds?
It would be spent with Amanda and the family, and would involve some sport: seeing our grandsons play rugby; perhaps a match at Forest Green Rovers. I was chairman of Selsley Cricket Club for some 20 years, and there's nothing nicer than watching cricket in the sunshine on a Sunday afternoon, seeing young players develop their skills.
We'd go to a service at All Saints, Selsley on the Sunday morning - a wonderful Arts and Crafts church, with stained glass by Pre-Raphaelite artists. I'd also love a flight in a Spitfire! I've been a keen aviation fan since childhood.
If money were no object, where would you live in the Cotswolds?
I'd live somewhere along the scarp edge, with some of the loveliest views in the country: from Cleeve Hill right across to Bristol.
If funds were unlimited, I'd like to give large sums to the military charities I support. The public was genuinely moved when the corteges used to drive through Royal Wootton Bassett, but memories can fade; sadly, for our troops, issues such as PTSD can emerge much later in life.
Where are you least likely to live in the Cotswolds?
I'm totally countryside-orientated. Even going to somewhere like Cribbs Causeway, I want to leave as quickly as possible! (Though Amanda sometimes needs a 'city fix', which I appreciate.)
Where's the best place to eat?
Difficult, as there are so many - but I'd say Calcot Manor in Tetbury and Egypt Mill in Nailsworth. We've also had fantastic meals provided by the ladies at Selsley church. They give freely of their time - have done for many years - and the money raised goes to All Saints. Hats off to them.
What would you do for a special occasion?
I'd have a barbecue with family and friends in Rosie's Wood, a community woodland down by the River Cam. When I first moved to Gloucestershire, many years ago, I bought a house and land in Cambridge; although working full time, I developed a pick-your-own fruit farm. Later, I decided to plant a woodland there - named after my late wife, Roseanne, a well-known ballerina - with more than 4,500 trees and shrubs, and a small lake. In 2002, the Queen's Golden Jubilee, Amanda and I created Rosie's Wood Trust so it will never be built on: green lungs are becoming scarce. I pay tribute to Amanda, who has been fully supportive from day one, as well as our family, friends, and all who work so hard to maintain the woodland for the enjoyment of all. Each June, we hold our mini 'Glastonbury' - Jazz in the Wood - there.
What's the best thing about the Cotswolds?
One of the best things is the Honourable Company of Gloucestershire, of which I am a founder member. It does a tremendous amount behind the scenes for the county.
... and the worst?
The state of the roads…
But, more importantly, the deprivation that can go unnoticed. I vividly recall a talk by our previous Lord Lieutenant, Dame Janet Trotter, about the extreme poverty that can lie behind our beautiful rolling countryside, even in the most affluent areas.
Which shop could you not live without?
Brutons Hardware in Nailsworth. Every town should have one.
What's the most underrated thing about the Cotswolds?
I'm constantly amazed by the historic little towns and villages. However, I was surprised when some Australian friends, who visited one January, remarked on the Cotswolds being boring! Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I guess.
What's your favourite view in the Cotswolds?
From the Kingscote valley, down towards Horsley.
What's your quintessential Cotswolds village and why?
Coln St Aldwyns: the Cotswolds distilled.
Name three basic elements of the Cotswolds…
Sheep, cereals, horses.
What's your favourite Cotswolds building and why?
Newark Park, Ozleworth, because the view from the gardens has not changed in five centuries. (Amanda would probably say Chavenage House because it's a typical country manor, known the world over through TV series such as Poldark. She has a distant family link with the house.)
What would you never do in the Cotswolds?
Build on greenfield sites.
Starter homes or executive properties?
Starter homes - I commend the Cotswolds' far-sighted policy of having built council properties throughout. I would also like to see empty commercial blocks converted to residential accommodation.
What are the four corners of the Cotswolds?
Gloucester, Edgehill, Chipping Norton, Bath.
If you lived abroad, what would you take to remind you of the Cotswolds?
A Cotswold fossil, and happy memories - one, in particular, will stay with me forever. In 2018, everything came together at a wonderfully floodlit Gloucester Cathedral for Gloucestershire Salutes, a night of remembrance, which was also a way of thanking the county for the sacrifices made during two world wars. We had nearly 700 people attend, including high-ranking soldiers from the three Services, cadets, and civilians from all walks of life. The event was in aid of our veterans' homes, and ABF The Soldiers' Charity. It was singularly satisfying.
What's the first piece of advice you'd give to somebody new to the Cotswolds?
Take time to get to know people.
And which book should they read?
Diary of a Victorian Squire by the Birchall family of Bowden Hall, Upton St Leonards. It follows his travels throughout the county by horse-and-trap and bicycle.
Have you a favourite Cotswolds walk?
From Haresfield Beacon to Painswick Beacon.
If you were invisible for a day, where would you go and what would you do?
I'd go to Highgrove to see the wild flowers, and perhaps slip into the house to hear who enjoys them! Some years ago, I advised on the planting. Wildflowers are notoriously difficult to establish but, by enormous luck, it rained at the right time, and they featured on the cover of HRH's first book about Highgrove.
Some time later, Amanda and I were invited to St James's Palace, where we were able to chat to the Prince, a very active patron of Combat Stress. We took great pleasure in discussing the gardens with him.
To whom or what should there be a Cotswolds memorial?
To a Gloucestershire soldier outside the soldiers' museum in Gloucester Docks; and to a sheep farmer in Tetbury.
With whom would you most like to have a cider?
With the Rev Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy, appointed by King George V as chaplain to the Armed Forces during the First World War. A well-respected orator and poet, he was the first chaplain to go to the Front (against orders), and was awarded the Military Cross for crawling onto No Man's Land to help the wounded whilst under fire. He was fondly known to the troops as Woodbine Willie: in his haversack, as well as the New Testament, he carried Woodbine cigarettes to give to the men. He died in 1929, aged only 45, and is buried in St John's Cemetery, Worcester. His grandson, Nigel Studdert-Kennedy, who lives in Kings Stanley, read some of his poetry at our Gloucestershire Salutes evening.
- The next fundraising event for Gloucestershire Homes for Veterans, The Big Sleep, will be held on March 27 at Woodchester Mansion. For information, visit alabare.co.uk/veterans
More on Rosie's Wood at rosieswood.co.uk
Veterans currently housed by Alabaré in Gloucester include:
I found myself in a bit of a difficulty last year: I got made redundant and lost my flat, and I became homeless for three or four months. I went to the council; they sent me to the Job Centre - nobody wanted to know. You do feel frustration. You serve your country as a veteran, and this is what happens to you.
It was the [Royal] British Legion who told me about Alabaré. When I arrived [in Gloucester], I was as thin as a bean-stick; no self-esteem. But once you get here, they let you take your time. They don't rush you. When you're ready, you can move on to independence. I've put on weight; I feel much more confident. If it wasn't for Alabaré, I wouldn't be the person I am now.
It all started in July 2015 when I left the Army. I met a woman in Germany when I was based out there, and dropped everything for her. I lived with a German family for about four years but, when I went through a breakup, I ended up homeless and it was terrifying. I was almost scared to come back to England because I'd been out of the country so long.
SSAFA [the Armed Forces charity] managed to get me a place with Alabaré. Since that first day, I've done so much stuff. I completed the Cumbrian Challenge. I've done two courses in security and CCTV. I went to a garden party at Buckingham Palace. All these good things are happening.
I'm going to start sending out my CV now. I'm 24 and I've got my whole life ahead of me.
I had a stroke in 2015 - out of the blue; no warning. I was thinking: that's it; my life is over. Subsequently, I started suffering from mental health issues and I got laid off. I lost my job; I lost my home; I lost everything. I was literally at death's door, mentally and physically.
Luckily, a charity called Pathways filled out a referral for Alabaré. Now I've got a chance to go forward.
When you're in the Forces, you're taught to man up and get on with it. Some burly sergeant will come up and say, 'What are you bawling for!'
Alabaré has shown me that some days it's OK not to be OK. If the guys come and ask me how I am, I can now say, 'Actually, I'm having a bad day. I need help.'