How do you feel when your soldier’s assignment order comes through for central London? Excited to be in the big city, or daunted by Army life in a busy location? We chatted with AFF’s London Co-ordinator, Becky Green, and families at Queen Mary Buildings (QMB), Westminster, to find out…
THE first thing that families will want to know is what the accommodation is like. “Flats are great, spacious and modern; and rent is low at QMB,” said Army spouse Vicky.
“The flats don’t have much storage and having no garden means you have to either store or get rid of garden furniture and outdoor toys. If you have small children, you have to pack a bag to take out with you just to get some fresh air.”
Most Service families in London don’t drive because of busy traffic, expensive insurance and an annual fee to park outside flats. But transport links are great and there are so many things to do within easy reach. There are free or cheap activities all over the city. No matter your interests or how old your children are, you’ll find something to suit you.
There’s a close feel within each patch and families meet at coffee mornings, where you can also find Becky on a monthly basis.
“Units are spread all over London and are not often in contact with families, so Facebook is important to ensure people stay up-to-date – the Westminster group is very active,” she explained.
There’s good community spirit too. At a families’ day at Wellington Barracks, everyone got together to paint the kids’ play area and clear communal spaces.
Where there have been issues, AFF has been on hand to help. Ongoing problems with the lifts at Wellington Barracks have made it a struggle for parents. Becky said: “Getting children and pushchairs up and down four or five floors of stairs can be a nightmare.
“Soldiers have even helped out with collecting supermarket deliveries from the ground floor.
“We work closely with Military Housing Liaison Officer Mick Fadel, CA and DIO to get housing issues resolved as quickly as possible. We listen to families and gather evidence of trending issues. Much of the work is awaiting agreement, such as installing post boxes at Wellington Barracks along with new flooring for the play area.”
London has lots to offer if you’re looking for a job and there have been no issues reported to AFF about finding school places.
It’s a different matter for pre-schoolers, with few places available and costly fees. Childminder Victoria, who only takes children from Service families, said: “Myself and a childminding friend are full and have waiting lists. Lots of spouses want to work, but there’s no affordable childcare. It can cost up to £1,600 a month if you’re full-time.”
There’s some compensation for cost of living as ranks below sergeant receive London weighting allowance. It does mean some soldiers find themselves worse off when promoted, however.
Army spouse Holly admitted that while London can seem overwhelming, there’s lots to enjoy. “It has its difficulties, but overall we like it,” she said. “I would advise others to join the Facebook page, get chatting to other families and be a part of the community.”
If you’re posted to London and would like support, contact Becky at email@example.com