The RAF Benevolent Fund, the RAF’s leading welfare charity, has announced the extension of its telephone friendship group service after a successful year-long pilot. The programme, open to ex-serving personnel and their dependants, connects like-minded people together over the phone, providing vital human contact that is often taken for granted.
The pilot scheme began in July 2016 using guests from the RAF Benevolent Fund’s respite home on the south coast, Princess Marina House. The trial involved three groups consisting of up to seven people per group, all of whom were over the age of 65. The groups met once a week for an hour-long chat about everything from television, families and daily life, to current affairs and interests. Each group was led by a trained volunteer facilitator who ensures participants feel comfortable and that each person has the opportunity to join in the discussion.
After a successful pilot, the programme will now open to all RAF ex-service personnel and their dependants across the UK.
Alison Wyman, Head of Welfare Programmes & Development at RAF Benevolent Fund, said: “Our research shows that out of the ex-service personnel who reported having difficulties, 32 per cent were related to isolation or relationships. As a result, we started this programme as a way to bring people together to reduce loneliness and isolation. The service is different than a befriending service because it connects like-minded people, providing peer support and offering the possibility for deeper, more meaningful friendships. It also eliminates the issue of geographical location, and relationships can be built from the comfort of the home. The project has been really effective so far and initial results showed that the majority of participants reported improvements in their mental well being.”
Participants Patricia (Pat) Habgood, 88, and Peggy Weaver, 87, have seen the benefits of the programme.
Pat, who served in the RAF from 1949 to 1951, says she feels isolated because both her and her 93-year-old husband have poor health and aren’t able to leave the house often. She joined the group after being approached to take part, and says it’s been a magnificent experience.
She says: “I very much look forward to our weekly call because I’m a ‘chatty Patty’ and I love socialising with other people. We talk about everything from knitting to television and other hobbies. It’s wonderful. I’m always talking about it and suggesting that people try a group themselves.”
Pat and Peggy even had the opportunity to meet in person at Princess Marina House, and build upon their friendship in person.
Peggy recalled: “It was so nice that I met Pat. She came straight up to me and said, ‘Hello Peggy’! We were there together for a fortnight. It’s nice to know you’ll meet someone you know.”
Peggy, a widow whose husband served during WW2 and passed away seven years ago, lives alone in a flat in London. With no family nearby, she jumped at the chance to join a friendship group.
“I live alone and I hate being by myself. I’m lonely. I look forward to the phone call every Thursday night. We all do. It’s nice to speak to the same people each week.”
The free telephone group is run in partnership with Community Network, a national charity using telecommunications to promote wellbeing and tackle loneliness.
Robert Edmonds, CEO, Community Network said: “Tackling loneliness and improving mental health is at the heart of the telecoms enabled peer support service that we are partnering with the RAF Benevolent Fund to deliver. We are delighted that we’ve been chosen by the Fund to help create connections across RAF veterans’ communities.”
Groups are formed based on a number of factors, including interests and availability, and participants are placed carefully to ensure the best match and encourage long-term participation.
If you or someone you know would like to take part in a telephone friendship group, visit https://www.rafbf.org/how-we-help/telephone-friendship-groups.
For further information, please contact:
Ashley Tilley, RAF Benevolent Fund on 020 7303 3305 or Ashley.Tilley@rafbf.org.uk
Notes to Editors:
RAF Benevolent Fund: The Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund is the RAF’s leading welfare charity, providing financial, practical and emotional support to serving and former members of the RAF, as well as their partners and dependants. We help members of the RAF family with everything from disability, injury, financial hardship and youth support to living independently and providing dignity in retirement. For more information visit: www.rafbf.org Twitter: https://twitter.com/RAFBF