Since its formation in 1919, the RAF Benevolent Fund has stood side by side with the RAF Family during its toughest times and the coronavirus pandemic is no exception. The welfare of our beneficiaries and staff have been and will continue to be at the forefront of all we do. We have adjusted our working practices to ensure the Fund is ‘open for business’ for those members of the RAF Family who need our support.
For our beneficiaries, the Fund already has robust and effective strategies in place to support people who might be affected by social isolation. We want to ensure the most vulnerable RAF veterans, serving personnel and dependants are able to access the very best level of support we can provide in these challenging times.
Around three quarters of the RAF Family are aged over 65, many live at a distance from friends and family and are experiencing complex health and welfare challenges, often compounded by their age. Shielding and self-isolation is not making the situation any easier and is certainly increasing social isolation and loneliness.
To that end, the Fund has expanded a number of its services and introduced new welfare initiatives. These include:
The Fund has launched an online grant application process for RAF veterans and their partners. Beneficiaries can apply for grants up to £750 using an online form, allowing our caseworking partners to focus on the more complex cases.
Larger financial grants are available for members of the RAF Family including working-age RAF veterans who may be out of work due to the crisis. We continue to work with caseworking organisations to ensure that the application process is as effective as possible, despite many of their volunteers being affected by social distancing.
The Fund has made £2,500 available for each RAF station to provide an activity and wellbeing pack for RAF children who will be missing our Airplay youth support sessions which have been temporarily paused.
Veterans can seek advice through the Fund’s Benefits Advice and Advocacy service. The Advocacy service is also able to assist people with understanding and challenging social care and CHC (continuing healthcare) decisions.
We have also launched a legal advice helpline for members of the RAF Family unsure about their rights.
Since the first national lockdown, Fund staff have been contacting vulnerable veterans to check on them and identify any needs they may have. Any veterans who would benefit have been transferred to weekly one-on-one Check and Chat calls or Telephone Friendship Groups.
Airplay Connect was launched in partnership with Action for Children to help children who are isolated while at home under lockdown restrictions. Managed by Station Youth Workers, Airplay Connect provides a safe, secure forum for people to engage in fun and educational activities online.
Our Community Engagement Workers are continuing their great work with vulnerable beneficiaries, but now over the phone.
Our Social Engagement Workers have flexed their role and are working hard with their local station to better support the socially isolated on and off station.
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Fund began offering Headspace memberships to RAF partners and spouses. Previously, free access to the mindfulness app was only available to serving personnel.
Veterans and serving personnel in need of low-level emotional support can access the Listening and Counselling Service, which has been expanded to provide 24-hour support. The Fund has also introduced a specialist counselling service for children and young people aged 11 to 18.
We have an online mental wellbeing zone on our website where RAF veterans and personnel can find advice, support and find out where to go for more help.
Princess Marina House
In July 2020, we made the difficult decision to permanently close Princess Marina House, the Fund’s care and respite centre in West Sussex. The decision was not taken lightly and was made with great sadness as it is a unique and special place to both work and visit. Before Covid-19, our research told us the number of veterans and their partners likely to visit Princess Marina House would decline, bringing the centre’s long-term viability to the Board’s attention, though no decisions about its future had been made.
Like many other charitable organisations, the Fund experienced a significant drop in income and we faced funding an empty building which is unable to provide the vital support that veterans need right now. We have a duty to all our beneficiaries and supporters to spend their donations effectively, making the biggest impact on the welfare of all of our beneficiaries.