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Op CONNECT – RAF Association’s four new emergency welfare projects meet COVID-19 need

As the COVID-19 lockdown began in the UK, the RAF Association moved quickly to launch four emergency welfare projects supporting the RAF community.

Within days of the government announcement on 23 March, the Association began individual welfare checks by telephone on more than 30,000 people known to be in high-risk categories.

“We have found truly desperate levels of isolation, loneliness and need,” said Rachel Huxford, the Association’s Director of Marketing and Fundraising.

One couple in their eighties had health conditions that made it too dangerous for them to go out for provisions. Former air electronics officer Ken Topaz left the RAF on medical grounds in 1973 and his wife, Shirley, had just come out of hospital when the lockdown started.

Shirley said: “We decided to stay put because we didn’t want to take any chances with our health. Unfortunately, after a fortnight we ran out of food and other essentials.”

With family and friends unable to leave their own homes or too far away to provide help, the couple sent out a plea to the RAF Association. Ken said:

“We couldn’t believe how quickly [they] arrived. We don’t normally ask for charity help, but we had no other choice, given the circumstances. We’re very grateful.”

In addition to immediately changing its existing welfare operations to maintain normal high levels of support within the new social distancing requirements, the Association launched four new, highly focused services, under the banner of Op CONNECT:

· Project OUTREACH. A telephone outreach service, contacting high-risk individuals in the RAF community to check on their welfare, offer them ongoing telephone friendship from a regular volunteer and alert them to other support services. Since lockdown began, over 300 RAF veterans or their loved ones have been matched with volunteers for weekly telephone befriending and these numbers are rising daily.

· Project HELPLINE. A friendship helpline (0800 018 2361) that anyone in the RAF community can call if they are feeling isolated or lonely and want a friendly chat with someone who understands.

· Project BAG DROP. Volunteers are delivering vital provisions to the doorsteps of the most vulnerable members of our RAF community. The Association has responded to over 135 requests for provisions throughout the UK so far.

· Project ENTERTAIN. The Association launched a daily RAF-themed live online entertainment programme in just three days (on 26 March) to help combat isolation. It has quickly attracted hundreds of thousands of views from members of the RAF community across the world. It spans a wide variety of popular activities, from exercise and sing-a-longs to history talks and virtual ‘Brews’ which give participants the chance to chat with special guests, which have included Air Marshal Gerry Mayhew and ex RAF POW John Peters. All the sessions can be seen at rafa.org.uk/operation-connect.

Since Op CONNECT launched, over 450 volunteers have so far stepped forward and been trained to support the emergency projects, as have over 270 of the Association’s local branches. More volunteers are still urgently needed to make outreach calls and to become telephone befrienders. Email friend@rafa.org.uk to offer your help.

The RAF Association has also launched an emergency fundraising appeal to ensure they are able to meet the increasing level of demand while normal fundraising events and collections are on hold: https://www.rafa.org.uk/get-involved/emergency-covid19-appeal/

Rachel Huxford, Director of Marketing and Fundraising at the Association said:

“The way that our RAF community has united with us to help our most vulnerable individuals is nothing short of inspirational. But we have a long way to go still, and the number of people needing our help is growing daily. We are determined to support every single person who needs us, for as long as it takes.”

Media contact: Rachel Huxford, Director of Marketing and Fundraising. 07786 234 439 or rachel.huxford@rafa.org.uk

About the Royal Air Forces Association

The Royal Air Forces Association (or RAF Association) is a registered welfare charity and membership organisation that has been providing welfare support to the RAF family for 90 years.

The Association recognises that RAF personnel and their immediate families dedicate their lives to their country, and we believe that such a sacrifice should not result in any form of disadvantage.

Our initiatives provide practical, emotional and financial support to all generations of RAF personnel and their immediate family members.

We were a good friend to more than 85,000 members of the RAF family in 2019. They benefited from our wide range of services including befriending, mental health awareness courses, professional childcare training, bespoke casework support, and help to secure emergency grants.

Our refurbishment of RAF contact houses enables serving personnel to spend quality time with their families, and our provision of free Wi-Fi on stations helps personnel to stay in touch with loved ones.

The RAF Association, through its wholly owned company RAFA Kidz, also provides high-quality, affordable nursery places for the children of RAF parents.

Our membership of more than 70,000 includes serving RAF personnel, veterans and members of the public who want to show their support for the work that we do.

Charity numbers: 226686 (England and Wales), SCO37673 (Scotland).

Our Executive Members

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The Service Charity Sector and the coronavirus outbreak

For the latest information and guidance on the Service Charity Sector and the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, please click here