Community leader Darren pays tribute to Felixstowe's great spirit

Darren Aitchison, a town councillor and community volunteer

Darren Aitchison, a town councillor and community volunteer - Credit: Felixstowe Town Council

From remembering the fallen to helping people through Covid, Darren Aitchison is involved in so many aspects of Felixstowe's community life.

He chairs the town's Royal British Legion branch and is also behind the Felixstowe Remembers project.

The former military man also set up the Felixstowe Helping Hands group to support people shielding during the pandemic - as well as being an independent town councillor and a governor of Felixstowe School. 

He also works full-time for an IT company, and a busy family life with wife Cassandra.

Darren Aitchison and Mark Girling, headteacher at Fairfield and Colneis schools in Felixstowe

Darren Aitchison (right) and Mark Girling, headteacher at Fairfield and Colneis schools in Felixstowe, when they launched the Community Connections project - Credit: Federation of Fairfield Infant and Colneis Junior School

Together they have five children, the two youngest having just finished their A-levels and GCSEs.

Not surprisingly, Mr Aitchison admits he doesn't get much free time - but says he loves what he does and pays tribute to the resort's friendly spirit.

"Felixstowe has a really strong community feel and all the volunteers that I work with are just amazing and give so much time. I couldn't do anything without them," Mr Aitchison said.

Remembering the fallen and supporting veterans means a lot to the 51-year-old, a former corporal who served in the Royal Engineers for 12 years. 

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Royal British Legion - and it is also the centenary of the Felixstowe branch, which was set up within months of the start.

A poignant sign in Constable road put up by the Felixstowe Remembers project

A poignant sign in Constable road put up by the Felixstowe Remembers project - Credit: Darren Aitchison

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"The RBL was set up in May 1921, and the Felixstowe branch in October 1921. We have got a special event in the town centre lined up for October 23," Mr Aitchison said.

The RBL will of course be very busy over the coming weeks, arranging Poppy collections and preparing for Remembrance services.

The Felixstowe Remembers project is something that has grown steadily, aiming to honour people from the area who died in conflicts.

In 2019, Mr Aitchison and the other volunteers created street signs for every road in Felixstowe, Walton, and The Trimleys where a person lived before dying in the two World Wars.

"We are going to put the signs up again this year. It's really poignant - we researched all of them and put up the signs to bring home the fact that it wasn't hundreds of years ago. 

"The houses where most of them lived are still there. These were people who may have lived in your house or next door," he said.   

Another project which Mr Aitchison set up was Felixstowe Helping Hands. "It's something that I started in March last year, a couple of weeks before the first lockdown," he said.

Darren Aitchison with then mayor Nick Barber in King Street, Felixstowe

Darren Aitchison with then mayor Nick Barber in King Street, Felixstowe, with one of the signs put up by the Felixstowe Remembers project - Credit: Felixstowe Town Council

"We got some little postcards printed, enough for every house in Felixstowe."

The cards asked if people needed help, such as having shopping and medicines delivered,  and an appeal also went out asking for volunteers.

"We set up a Facebook page as well and within the first day or two we got hundreds of calls. People were going on furlough and wanted to do something to help," he recalled.

Mr Aitchison started off taking all the calls himself, but it soon became too much for one person.

So he got together a team to organise the volunteers and make sure people received the help they needed.

Felixstowe Helping Hands is still going strong, delivering medicines to older people and those who are self-isolating and also arranging befriending calls. All volunteers are registered and DBS checks carried out.  

Linked to Helping Hands, Mr Aitchison was also involved in setting up the Community Connections project with youngsters from Fairfield and Colneis schools, after being contacted by headteacher Mark Girling.

Children from the two schools either wrote a letter or drew a picture, which Felixstowe Helping Hands then sent to people they had helped over the last 18 months. The letters and pictures meant a lot to isolated people.

Mr Aitchison said his work as a town councillor feeds into his other roles, and he really enjoys everything he does.

However, he said: "I don't have time for  hobbies apart from all the voluntary activities I do."

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