Hawker Typhoon Preservation Group turns five

The 17th May is always a special date in the Hawker Typhoon Preservation Group (HTPG) calendar; it is the anniversary, or birthday, of the formation of the charity. On that date, in 2016, the charity officially came into existence. As is customary, this piece will review the significant highlights, and lowlights, of the group over the last year. In 2020, to mark the fourth birthday, an article was published looking back across the first four years, you can read that here, and so this one will look at the last year. 

The official launch event in October 2016, a great event and when many people first heard about the project. But the charity was formed some five months earlier, in May.

The last year cannot be spoken about without mentioning the COVID-19 pandemic which has swept the world; nobody has been able to escape its effects. The same is true for the HTPG. Early in 2020 Sam Worthington-Leese, who has since then become the Project Director, reviewed the activities of the group, seeking advice from other organisations who had conducted similar fundraising exercises, i.e. large. He found that despite the efforts of everyone on the team, the activities being undertaken were not raising the level of funds required and so a refocus was instigated. Part of this refocus was to withdraw the project from attending airshows and events, because the level of effort required by the entire team to put on the exhibition simply was not matched by adequate rewards and that effort could, and should, be better employed elsewhere. The roots of this review were in early 2020, just outside the scope of the “last year”, however, the decision has proved to be an excellent one, because COVID-19 has not allowed a single airshow. And so, many thousands of volunteer hours have been saved from preparing for shows that would not have happened anyway. 

Exhibiting at airshows was a very enjoyable way of connecting with people, however, with resources extremely limited they had to be directed accordingly.

This refocus was a step towards establishing the project as the multi-million pound organisation that it must become and time has shown that it was the right decision, taken at the right time. The idea behind the strategy change, which officially took effect in June 2020, was to refocus the group’s limited resources away from activities that brought little financial reward and onto activities that promised much higher rewards. Raising the funds required to rebuild RB396 is, after all, the group’s primary reason for existence. So, with a little balance, it must be noted that unless something brings significant reward for the group financially, then there is little benefit to it. The refocus has allowed that to happen and the results are now beginning to really show.

The first success story brought about as a part of the refocus is the creation of the Platinum support package. It had been identified by a team member that there should be sufficient people out there in a position to contribute on a larger scale than the existing Supporters’ Club tiers allowed for. He suggested that if the group could find one-thousand people willing to contribute £1000 per year, then it would raise significant funds and that he too, would like to join those one-thousand. This idea was taken, modified slightly, made relevant to the amount to be raised that was still outstanding, along with estimated timescales and targets and, the “Platinum Club” was born. Coincided to be launched on the 75th anniversary of RB396’s final flight, along with a brand new website and a new line of merchandise, the Platinum Club has been a great success for the project. To date, £300,000 has been raised or pledged by the Platinum Club and its members. The beauty of the scheme is that contributions can be made as a one-off, annually, quarterly or monthly by Direct Debit or Give As You Earn. The variation in these methods has made it attractive to many, and it provides an excellent cashflow forecast for the team.

The lead reward for supporting the project at the Platinum level is, for every Platinum contribution (£4,000) received, a namespace will be allocated on RB396 when she is complete. These namespaces are limited in number to one-thousand, and already nearly 60 have been reserved by those joining the scheme. Alongside the namespace, there is a complimentary VIP invite to the official first flight event. For the full Platinum benefits package, please see the Support Us page.

The Platinum scheme has proved so popular that it has led to further development within the “Supporters’ Club”. The “Club” is in the process of being rebranded, with a number of new tiers being incorporated to further compliment Platinum. The various tiers are being rebranded to Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum and at the top, Diamond. Each builds on the level below by offering unique and exclusive benefits for support, whilst providing the vital funds required for the rebuild effort. As well as these new tiers which build on the higher end of support, there is a new scheme coming in at the other end. A Direct Debit support scheme, taking inspiration from the excellent “Just Jane” team at East Kirkby, and it will be called the “Sabre Club”. A monthly contribution of just £2 a month will see the contributor kept in the loop with the quarterly eNewsletter, whilst providing a contribution level that should be manageable to anyone who wishes to see a Typhoon take flight once more. With this rebranding, development of existing tiers and addition of new tiers, there truly will be something for every budget. These changes will be coming very soon, so be sure to stay tuned.

In the summer of 2020 some management and leadership changes occurred within the project. One or two of the longer standing team members left, and there was an injection of new volunteers ready and eager to continue the work. It had long been identified that the management structure of the project was far from ideal, and this was born of the original founding team doing “everything”, sometimes unclear lines of communication and occasional mixed messaging. This was nobody’s fault, just a factor of the project being established from the ground up and the pace of expansion surprising even those who believed wholeheartedly in the project. With the refocus bearing fruit and clear direction for the project, Sam was asked to become the official “Project Director”, acting on behalf of the trustees to organise the team and drive the project forward into this exciting next stage of its life. Since then, Richard Spreckley has become the Deputy Project Director to assist with the workload, a role that developed out of him covering for Sam whilst the latter was welcoming his first born to the world. She is happy and healthy by the way. 

The new structure and refocus towards higher rewarding activities has continued to be a success. Alongside the Platinum scheme, the second major change in the project’s activities was to begin targeted fundraising approaches towards individuals and/or companies who may have the interest and/or the means to support at a higher level. Due to the many changes of personnel over the summer, this took a little longer to instigate than originally planned, however, it is now well underway, with initial responses coming back very positive indeed and a number of new contacts and partnerships being established. The team carrying out this work is small, but their results far outweigh the team’s size. 

In combination with these changes, and taking the project to the next level, a Black Tie gala and auction was being prepared for October 2020. This was to be a substantial flagship event, with more than 200 guests, hosted in the IWM’s Airspace Hangar, featuring a sunset air display, reception under the Lancaster bomber and gourmet dining under the Concorde. Alas, COVID-19 struck again and meant that the event had to be postponed until 2021. However, the foundations had been laid, tickets sold and support garnered. The number of individuals and companies supporting this event is outstanding and 2021’s event is already planned to be bigger and better than 2020’s would have been. Remaining tickets, and tickets for the new virtual broadcast element, will go on sale in summer 2021 and project supporters will be the first to be notified. Another sell-out event is expected. 

As part of activities planned to commemorate the 75th anniversary of RB396’s final flight in April 2020, it had been planned to fly Bernard Gardiner, a WWII Typhoon veteran, in a Spitfire. He had flown the Hurricane and Typhoon during the conflict, but never the Spitfire. Bernard has long been a keen supporter of the project, and via the project’s partnership with the Aircraft Restoration Company and the Aerial Collective, the flight was arranged for late March 2020. However, COVID-19 had other plans. The flight was finally able to take place in October 2020 almost exactly 80 years to the day that Bernard joined the RAF at the peak of the Battle of Britain, with project Ambassador Paul Bonhomme being the pilot. The event attracted the most widespread media attention that the project has received to date, with coverage on both BBC and ITV news, as well as many national newspapers. And, the most important thing, Bernard thoroughly enjoyed himself. 

In the same week, the project featured on the More4 documentary “Inside the Spitfire Factory”. The documentary team had visited the project the previous October to interview a number of the project team, and Bernard, who was a guest at the Members’ Day the team filmed at. In a little over a week, Bernard had become a bit of a celebrity, the project had been on national television many times, and covered in the press. The website saw a large surge in visitor numbers, helping to further another one of the charity’s aims which is to educate the public on the role played by the Typhoon and its crews, as well as raise the money for the rebuild effort. 

In March 2020, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rebuild was paused due to concerns over the potential availability of funds. As a result of the refocus of activities, along with the coordinated media coverage and targeted approach to fundraising, combined with the support of the many existing project supporters the project has not only weathered the COVID-19 pandemic extremely well, it has thrived. In summer 2020 the rebuild was not only recommenced, but recommenced at five-times the monthly spend of the months prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. All funds have now been secured to complete the rebuild of this first section, RB396’s rear fuselage, which is currently with Airframe Assemblies on the Isle of Wight. Due to the hard work of the entire team, including several tough decisions along the way, this section is now earmarked for completion in September 2021. 

The physical rebuild is now back on track.

Now that the funds are secured for the completion of the rear fuselage, attention has turned to the next section, the centre fuselage which is more commonly known as the cockpit section. This section is being delivered to the Aircraft Restoration Company in June, along with the Napier Sabre engine, for the restoration work to commence. This is a significant next step for the project, brought about by solid teamwork and a laser-focus on what it is that the project must concentrate on. 

The centre fuselage, or cockpit, will be the next section to be rebuilt.

The last year has certainly not all been plain sailing, far from it. So many, in fact almost all, of the project team’s plans had to be modified or scrapped altogether as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In November, a former team member took down the project’s website and re-routed it to Wikipedia in a rather spiteful attempt to harm the team’s work. In less than 24hrs the full website was back up and running, along with the team’s email system which is linked to the domain. Since then, the team has re-secured the original domain, and all systems are back up and running. This has been another example of the excellent teamwork that can now be found on the team. Everybody is a volunteer, putting in many hours a day, let alone a week, to constantly move forward in this endeavour. Broadly, they experience nothing but support. But, unfortunately, there are a few individuals out there who wish to do harm to the project, which is very disappointing indeed. 

Despite the efforts of that minority, the project team is closing in on the first £1million raised or pledged, the current projection is that this could be achieved in as little as the next two months. The team are just £30,000 shy of this incredible milestone. Five more Platinum supporters, coupled with the normal shop takings over the next two months would achieve that. In the last year the team have physically raised £310,000 which is an incredible amount. It is even more incredible given the landscape of the world at this time. It is just under double the amount raised in the previous financial year and just goes to show that teamwork can overcome anything. 

The year leading up to this fifth birthday has been a tough one, but it has also been one of incredible support and progress. The rebuild has stepped up a gear and is progressing at a rate not seen before. The team is now the strongest and most stable it has ever been, promising great things for the coming years. There is so much more that has happened than is possible to mention in this article, but all of those smaller actions such as veteran birthdays, the shop team adapting to survive the pandemic, securing a substantial Google Ad grant, updated new website, introduction of a direct labour time donation scheme, constant social media presence, and so on… all add up and are critical in the overall team’s success. Without all of those smaller actions, the bigger things discussed here could not happen. To support the project in their endeavours, please visit the Support Us page and help them smash through that first £1million!

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