So how do you get to live in such a remarkable place and what are the benefits? The Military Mutual caught up with Colonel Simon Bate, the Director of Welfare and the Adjutant of the Royal Hospital Chelsea for an inside view.
How did the Royal Hospital Chelsea come about?
Over 300 years ago, Charles II was inspired to create a home for veterans who had served their country, but had since become ‘broken by age or war’. He understood then as we do now, that the nation owes a debt of gratitude to these ex-soldiers and looking after them in their later years is a way of showing we all still care. The buildings, designed by Christopher Wren are an architectural masterpiece and a huge part of our heritage, but it’s the camaraderie and friendship you find within that makes the Royal Hospital of Chelsea so special.
Who can apply to be a Chelsea Pensioner?
- You have to have served as a regular soldier in the British Army. (This opportunity is not open to the tri-services community).
- To qualify you need to be an ex-soldier. Former officers who commissioned out of Sandhurst are not eligible. Late Entry Officers who’ve initially served at least 12 years in the ranks do qualify. Although rank is not recognised in day-to-day living at the Hospital, medals are worn for ceremonial duty.
- You have to be over the age of 65. Currently, the average age for those entering the Royal Hospital is 73 years, where as the average age of all members is 83 years.
- You must have no living dependents – i.e. you need to be single with no family to support. If at a later date you decide to marry, another deserving veteran would take your place.
- Both men and women are eligible to join. There are currently 283 Chelsea Pensioners – nine are women.
- You must demonstrate a welfare need. This could include financial hardship or bereavement, the fear of isolation, loneliness or the worry about coping with old age.
- You must be healthy and able to live independently. To be eligible, you must be fit and able. Once a Chelsea Pensioner, you will be looked after for the rest of your life, regardless of your health.
What are the benefits of living at the Royal Hospital Chelsea?
- Being part of a community offering camaraderie and friendship. The Chelsea Pensioners have each other for company as well as a dedicated team responsible for ensuring they are cared for in every possible way. All kinds of fun activities are laid on, including bingo, gardening and bridge. Invites to some of the top sporting fixtures along with major military events and national commemorations are often up for grabs.
- Financial security. Future nursing costs are paid for, if and when the need arises. Food and accommodation are included. There are no utility bills to worry about, no cooking or cleaning to be done. Pensioners qualify for a free bus pass and are able to explore London at their leisure. All that’s required is a bit of pocket money to spend on the way.
- Gives a sense of purpose. Those who can are encouraged to get involved, both within the Hospital and the wider community. The Chelsea Pensioners actively volunteer for a number of charitable causes including The British Legion and the Army Benevolent Fund. Their insight and experience can make the world of difference to somebody down on their luck. They offer a friendly ear to young soldiers in need via Veterans Aid and Help the Heroes. They also serve food to the homeless in London, often forging links with ex-military men and women in need.
- Provides a secure future. The Pensioners are looked after financially and emotionally. Although most begin life at the Hospital fit and well, old age can take its toll. There are two levels of care. Sheltered accommodation is provided for those who are able to live independently, with domiciliary care available for those who need a hand to get up and dressed in the morning. When the time comes, Pensioners can be transferred over to the Infirmary for 24-hour nursing care.
- The geography. What’s not to love about the location!? The Royal Hospital is a beautiful, historic building that sits firmly in the heart of London in the borough of Kensington & Chelsea.
Are there any drawbacks?
- Communal living isn’t for everyone. For some, adjusting to an institutional environment can be hard. Having to wear a uniform for public events may also take a while to get used to. That said, for most, it is the sense of community that attracts people to the Hospital. Wearing the scarlet uniform is a source of immense pride, not only for the Pensioners but also for the public at large. It’s a case of personal preference.
What is the financial cost?
- You agree to give up both your Army Pension and Disability Pension (if you have one). The aim is to contribute a minimum amount of £175 per week. If your Army and / or Disability Pensions fall short of this mark, then you are asked to make up the difference out of personal savings. Those with little or no money are means tested and an individual contribution can be agreed. Baring in mind most nursing home fees per week would add up to significantly more than the combined monthly cost laid out here, the Royal Hospital of Chelsea offers incredible value.
- You get to keep your State Pension and any other assets you may own. You just need enough money to get out and about, so you can enjoy all that London has to offer.
What’s it like working at the Royal Hospital Chelsea?
Colonel Simon Bate, sums it up…
“For many of the ex-military staff working in the Royal Hospital life is a natural extension of their military career. I do not see my appointment as work but more of a vocation, where I am lucky and humbled to be living alongside veteran pensioners, with my family, and providing support to such great people; all of whom have served and demonstrated commitment and sacrifice on behalf of the nation”.
Sometimes referred to as the ‘Lucky 300 –looked after by the nation’. The Chelsea Pensioners represent just a small number of ex veterans who deserve thanks and praise. It is this ethos that keeps the Royal Hospital of Chelsea at the forefront of the nation’s hearts & minds.
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