For many who serve in the military, one of the most positive aspects is the sense of camaraderie it brings. But when the time comes to leave the military behind, that feeling can be one that is difficult to replace. When combined with old age, which frequently brings its own well-documented challenges around loneliness, many military veterans can be left in their older years with a lack of friendly faces around them.
To help tackle this issue in Yorkshire, The Royal Air Forces Association is encouraging members of the RAF family in the Harrogate and Pontefract areas to get in touch if they feel lonely or isolated and think their life could be brightened by visits from a volunteer befriender.
The charity provides welfare support to serving and ex-RAF personnel and their dependants and their befriending service involves specially-trained teams who work across the UK. They are now reaching out to people in the Harrogate and Pontefract areas who could benefit from their support.
The befrienders pay regular visits to their befriendees, giving them someone to talk to and look forward to seeing. Time is often spent reminiscing about life in the RAF and conquering loneliness.
The association says loneliness, which can often occur as the result of losing a loved one or moving into a new home, can quickly lead to feelings of isolation and even depression, particularly among older people.
According to the charity Independent Age, more than one in three people aged 75 and over say that feelings of loneliness are out of their control. Earlier this year, Andy Nazar, campaign manager for England at the Campaign to End Loneliness, told The Yorkshire Post that many older people are unprepared for the “shock” of loneliness in later life and need to do more to protect themselves from the risk of isolation.
“For many of us, life transitions that put people most at risk of loneliness are inevitable, for example giving up work. You may think that will leave you with plenty of time to spend in the garden, but the garden doesn’t seem quite as appealing in the winter months, your grandchildren grow up and the holidays you thought you’d be going on aren’t as accessible. Then the big one will come along – bereavement – and it’s the key time people become isolated.”
Volunteers are able to provide support to befriendees in re-establishing old connections or forming new ones with people in their local area, helping to establish a wider group of friends.
In 2017 alone, the Association responded to hundreds of appeals for befriending support, and the charity’s Director of Welfare and Policy, Rory O’Connor, hopes the Yorkshire area will see local people benefitting from the scheme.
He says: “We know, from Office for National Statistics data, that five per cent of adults in England last year reported feeling lonely ‘often’ or ‘always’. Single or widowed people are at particular risk of experiencing loneliness more often, and we know that elderly people with reduced mobility can be hard-hit. Feelings of loneliness and isolation can be a serious issue for people who served in the RAF because, when they retire, they suddenly lose the camaraderie of being part of a close-knit community of colleagues. Our experience shows that our befriending scheme benefits everyone involved – our volunteers who take time out of their days love doing it, and befriendees benefit hugely from the visits. It’s an extremely positive and far reaching scheme which we hope will help people to live a healthier and happier life.”