How the City of Wollongong RSL sub-Branch has attracted new members

Peter Lipscomb on the City of Wollongong RSL sub-Branch’s recruitment efforts, and the family-friendly social activities it organises for the veteran community.

By Tess Durack

At a glance:

  • The City of Wollongong RSL sub-Branch has attracted more than 60 new members since 2020.
  • Twenty-eight are from the 4th/3rd Battalion, a Reserve light infantry unit based nearby.
  • The sub-Branch has introduced informal gatherings to create more opportunities for connection with the battalion’s members and their families.
  • A range of other family-friendly activities, including footy, golf and fishing, are also on the cards.

When City of Wollongong RSL sub-Branch Secretary and Treasurer Peter Lipscomb set out to build a succession plan for the sub-Branch, he determined early on the need to offer social, sport and recreation opportunities to the entire community.

“Most people won’t join their local sub-Branch just to get welfare support or to help organise commemorative activities,” says Peter, though he knows those functions are critical. “You also have to get people interested through social activities.”

Peter, who served in the Navy from 1980 to 2000, was a member of the sub-Branch for 11 years before putting his hand up for a leadership role in early 2020.

“When the new committee was formed, we did a full review of our member database,” he says. They knocked on doors to check in with members and ensure the sub-Branch had the most up-to-date information.

“The database listed 165 members, but we found only 110 were still active. We set out to contact as many lapsed members as possible to see why they were no longer active.”

The committee also made an effort to engage younger veterans, and has now welcomed three new members under the age of 40 – including the first woman to join the committee in the sub-Branch’s history.

“The sub-Branch is more than 100 years old,” says Peter. “It has been well managed and organised by its members over the years and is in a strong financial position. We don’t want to see that go away, and none of us are here forever.

“So we’re really passionate about having a succession plan, leaving something that’s easy for the next person to pick up. We need younger members to make sure that happens.”

“We have five members currently who have been members of the RSL for more than 50 years – that’s really important to recognise and respect.” – Peter Lipscomb

To reach those potential younger members, Peter has partnered with the Royal New South Wales Regiment’s 4th/3rd Battalion, or 4/3 RNSWR, a Reserve light infantry battalion based in the Illawarra and Southern Sydney region.

“We’ve had a lot to do with the 4/3 over the years,” explains Peter. “They provide the Catafalque Party on ANZAC Day and all of our other commemorative events.”

After one of these events Peter met Corporal Daniel Langmaid CPL, Section Commander of the battalion’s Bravo Company and President of the Bravo Company Mess Committee.

“I met Dan after an event we sponsored where he’d been part of the Catafalque Party,” recalls Peter. “We got talking about what might be possible. I knew if we could connect with the battalion socially, that would be a way to increase our numbers.”

Dan shares Peter’s vision for the sub-Branch.

“The approach the sub-Branch has taken to promote membership has been innovative and far reaching,” says Dan. “It can be really flexible in the way it supports its members.”

Family-friendly events and activities

Inclusive, family-friendly events have been crucial to developing the connection between the 4/3 and the sub-Branch.

The sub-Branch has introduced informal gatherings, which don’t replace the monthly general meetings, but instead create more opportunities for connection with the 4/3 and serving members’ families.

“It’s not always easy for the 4/3 men and women to get to a Monday evening meeting,” explains Peter. “They have jobs and family commitments. So now we hold more informal meetings at the unit mess on weekends.

“I’ll do a short financial update, let them know about membership numbers and any upcoming events, and then we have a barbecue. The kids play table tennis and maybe we’ll put a football game on the television to watch together.”

At the first meeting with the 4/3, more than 30 people turned up and the sub-Branch gained eight new members.

“We’ve had over 60 new members since 2020,” says Peter. “Twenty-eight are from Bravo Company, and 24 of those have joined since I started working with Dan.”

The arrangement also has a payoff for the 4/3.

“I see it as mutually beneficial,” says Dan. “The sub-Branch members seem to enjoy seeing what’s going on at the unit and maintaining a connection to Defence, and we get to see that it’s possible to maintain relationships with those you have served with when you leave Defence.

“Inviting sub-Branch members to our unit for social activities builds connections and opens up conversations. The friendly banter is top notch and often they’ve had similar lived experiences, with funny stories or advice they can pass on.”

Planning for the future

Sport and recreation are set to play an ever larger role in the sub-Branch’s ongoing efforts to support existing members and encourage new ones to join.

A touch footy team, a regular golf day and even a monthly fishing comp are on the cards – and will be open to all veterans.

“We won’t make membership a condition to participate in any of these activities,” says Peter.

He describes the importance and popularity of lawn bowls with the older members – he is keen to make it accessible and enjoyable for them.

“While we are committed to recruiting a new generation of veterans, we want to make sure we look after our existing members,” says Peter. “We have five members currently who have been members of the RSL for more than 50 years – that’s really important to recognise and respect.”

The sub-Branch’s focus is keenly on the future so that it can remain an integral part of the local community.

“We know that two or three of these young ones from the 4/3 will eventually sign up for the committee,” says Peter. “We know we can’t do this forever and now we feel confident that we’ve got people who can learn and take over when the time comes.

“That gives me a sense that we’ll be okay. I think the future looks bright.”

A version of this article was published in the December issue of Reveille magazine.

The RSL NSW member recruitment toolkit contains resources to help sub-Branches connect with veterans and their families. It’s free for sub-Branches to access – download the toolkit today.