Second World War veteran inspires younger generation to reach their full potential

Neil Flanigan left Jamaica as a teenager to join the Royal Air Force. Now in his 90s, he's encouraging young people to achieve their dreams


A SECOND WORLD war veteran is sharing his experiences with the young people from inner city primary schools, secondary schools and colleges to inspire them to reach their full potential.

Neil Flanigan MBE, retired president of the West Indies Association of Service Personnel (WASP) and member of the British Legion, is one of the oldest mentors in the UK and the eldest member of Urban Synergy, an award winning mentoring charity specialising in early intervention programmes for young people. 

As a teenager, Flanigan left Jamaica for the UK to be trained as a skilled instrument technician in the Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command. He was one of more than 10,000 people from the West Indies who responded to the British Armed Forces call for help. 

He joined the Royal Air Force in 1943 where he worked in aviation, checking and servicing aircrafts such as Lancaster’s aircrafts flown by Bomber Command pilots during the war operations.

Following his military career, Flanigan worked as a graduate engineer on aircraft engines and airframes throughout the West Indies, Britain and Europe. On retirement he became a financial consultant, mental health manager and was director of Citizen’s Advice.

Now in his 90s, the Second World War veteran has been an active member of Urban Synergy for over 10 years, regularly visiting inner city primary and secondary schools and sixth form colleges together with a team of professionals from the private and public sector.

The aim of the mentoring programme is to educate, better prepare and equip students from disadvantaged backgrounds, particularly during their transition from school into further education and work. The charity’s objective is to help young people between the ages of 11-18 unlock their full potential by understanding their options and the opportunities available to them within the education system, via work experience and by preparing them for the employment market. 

Flanigan said volunteering in the local and wider community and acting as a mentor at schools and colleges is an opportunity to “give back to society for what it has done for me”. He acknowledged that working within secondary schools and sixth form colleges is a “tremendous challenge” because every audience and “every child is different,” and “we as a community have to respond to them in order to address those diverse needs”. It’s “imperative for us to let them gain confidence and know their capabilities and emphasise the importance of equality, fairness, honesty and integrity” in a “language that children understand and can learn” from the outset, he said.

Flanigan said that the sacrifices of service men and women enabled us in the UK and Europe to continue to live in a democratic society, experiencing the freedom we have today – having access to education, health and many opportunities for today’s young people.

As an ex-serviceman, Flanigan continues to be an active member of the military and local communities. While he is dedicated to remembering fallen soldiers and ensuring the contributions made by people from the Commonwealth and former British colonies are not forgotten, he also makes it his duty to encourage and empower young people that no matter what their background or challenges they may face in life, they can achieve anything with persistence and commitment. 

Urban Synergy works with a variety of professionals from different sectors, such as science, technology, engineering, media entertainment, legal, financial and health sectors. Mentors volunteer their time offering young people from diverse and disadvantaged backgrounds support, advice, guidance and encouragement in a safe environment to achieve their best in education and beyond.

The organisation’s objective is to work in partnership with inner city schools and parents like those in the Lewisham Borough, which overall has the highest school exclusion rates in the UK (2012-2018), to support a positive change – helping young people in primary and secondary schools and also sixth form colleges to grow and excel in their academic achievements.

To find out more about Urban Synergy, visit

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1 Comment

  1. | Mark Graham

    I am so proud of him. A great role model.


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