I remember my teenage life in quarters at RAF Cosford very fondly. We’d just returned from three years living in Holland, where our one street of RAF families in a Dutch town were quite isolated from station life. So Cosford was a revelation – a bowling alley, youth club, Scouts and even a cinema on the camp. My Dad threw himself into making station life for us kids a real pleasure, for which I’ll always be grateful. He took over running the youth club and roller rink, with some equally committed volunteers. Yes, such a thing as a station roller rink actually existed, and yes, this cool dude could skate backwards (in a shell suit).
Non-RAF friends from school couldn’t believe the access we had to sports and leisure facilities, and jumped at the chance to watch even absolute dross at our cinema, like Street Fighter. The provision for Scouting, Guiding and Air Cadets was great too, even when one poor SAC bravely took over the Scouts on his own at a time when our numbers were badly depleted. When we realised the three Scouts left in the troop could all fit in his car, his question of “What do you want to do?” was met with “Uhhh…cinema?”. We didn’t earn many badges in those days, but we did get to see Batman Returns.
The summers were even better. The “Summer Scheme”, as it came to be known, was a two week-long extravaganza of activities, culminating in a coach trip to Drayton Manor Park. In hindsight, I can see why Dad roped in so many other nervous-looking parents as volunteers. Now, as an adult, the very thought of taking 50 unruly kids to a theme park terrifies me to my core. And that souvenir photo taken on the rapids that the gift shop staff covered with cardboard, so as not to offend other visitors, doesn’t bear thinking about.
Later, the expansion of Cosford’s training facilities meant that some of the leisure facilities had to go – first the roller rink, then the cinema, and the way other services like youth clubs are delivered have had to evolve with the times. I’m very proud to say that, working for the RAF Benevolent Fund, I help support the provision of youth support on station through our Airplay scheme. These days, my Dad is busy being run ragged by his grandchildren, so his days of flogging cut-price chocolate bars in his youth club shop are long behind him.
Reading this back, I realise I’ve mentioned my Dad a few times, but for me, he typified the “can do” attitude and sense of community that I remember from the time, of serving personnel and spouses working to make station life enjoyable for families. And while the RAF has changed since my childhood, and while life has come to feel busy and pressured for many of us, I am genuinely heartened when I see serving personnel and their families come together. The concept of the “RAF family” is one we talk about a lot at the Fund, and station life is its beating heart.