Stoke Newington RAF cadet squadron faces closure after 77 years
- Credit: Archant
The battle is on to save a Stoke Newington RAF cadets squadron after armed forces chiefs announced it was being shut next month after 77 years.
Campaigners believe the decision to close 296 squadron of the Air Training Corp (ATC) is being made so the Albion Road base, valued at £2million plus, can be sold off as part of an “efficiencies plan”.
The official line is that cadet numbers are below the requirement, though sources at the group say the lack of numbers is in the process of being fixed with more youngsters being recruited.
To make matters worse, the squadron has not been offered alternative accommodation and RAF chiefs have instead suggested the existing cadets join other groups in the area.
Thousands of young men and women have passed through the doors since the 296 was formed in 1941, and 13 of its cadets died in battle during the Second World War.
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Now, ex-cadets have rallied together to try and save the squadron. They say closing it down would be a “tragedy” and leave the youngsters out on the streets with nothing to do.
Many also credit the squadron with keeping them on the straight and narrow.
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Ralph Barwick joined in 1957 as a cadet and later served as squadron officer, officer commanding and chairman of the committee.
He told the Gazette: “The building is in good shape, as is the staff, but presently the cadet numbers are just a little below par.
“These things tend to be cyclic, and plans are well advanced to correct this. This squadron is in working mode and general good health, manned by an enthusiastic staff of volunteers.”
Ralph said the decision was made by the London Wing commander, who he said was “enthusiastically implementing” the efficiencies plan of the Regional Commandant.
“So far this ‘efficiencies plan’ has plunged London Wing into the worst crisis I have ever known in my association with it which spans 61 years,” he continued.
“The squadron has quietly performed the task of giving youngsters a sense of adventure and responsibility, assimilating the waves of immigration and giving all its members a feeling of ownership and belonging.
“It has been a bastion and solid part of the community.
“If it has to close, it will be a tragedy, as history tells us that they never reopen, and generations to come will be denied the splendid experiences that we had.
“This will not be an isolated incident, as the plan is to be implemented throughout London and the south east.”
Treasurer Alan McManus has been involved with the squadron for 42 years, first as a cadet and then as a civilian instructor.
He added: “I have seen first-hand the positive effect that is gained from membership.
“I have personal experience of the fact the ATC creates friends for life, introducing young people to a form of teamwork, discipline and self-respect that they would not, and do not, come into contact with anywhere else.
“The media is, currently, full of the issue of misguided youth on the streets with gangs, murders, stabbings and shootings.
“Is it really the time to be closing down such a meaningful establishment and putting yet more teenagers on the street with nothing to do?
“I honestly believe that this closure will eventually come back to bite the local community and residents.”
An RAF Cadets spokeswoman said there were 26 cadets enrolled at 296 but attendance was below 50pc and bosses were left with no choice.
She said the cadets would now be encouraged to join other squadrons in the area, which offered a “greater experience” because they had more volunteers with a “wider breadth of specialist qualifications”.
“This was a difficult decision which was not taken lightly, but with falling cadet numbers the unit was unsustainable,” the spokeswoman said.
“There are five other larger cadet groups within five miles of 296 squadron and we have encouraged current cadets to continue their membership with one of these units.”
The spokeswoman added that no decision had been made about the future of the Albion Road building.