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Appeal launched to support lonely veterans across Newark area

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A telephone friendship service aimed at easing loneliness among the RAF veteran community is urgently appealing for more volunteers across the Newark area.

The RAF Association’s Connections for Life service currently has 1,800 people in need of regular friendship phone calls, and only 750 volunteers to support them.

The service's manager Sam Squire said the charity had seen growing demand for telephone friendship over recent months.

RAF Association Connections for Life volunteer Mal Hodgson. (55633307)
RAF Association Connections for Life volunteer Mal Hodgson. (55633307)

He said: “While many people are starting to get their social lives back on track after the worst of the pandemic, older and more vulnerable people are struggling to do this for a variety of reasons.

“Two years of very little, if any, social contact will, no doubt, have taken its toll on these people’s ability and opportunities for socialising going forward.

RAF Association Connections for Life beneficiary Marie Findlay. (55633309)
RAF Association Connections for Life beneficiary Marie Findlay. (55633309)

"Indeed, we know that many of our beneficiaries have lost loved ones during the pandemic, leaving them to face the future alone.

“In addition, those most at risk of serious illness from covid-19 are likely to continue to restrict their face-to-face social activities, so telephone friendship will, quite literally, continue to be a lifeline for them.”

Sam said that the charity’s existing volunteers came from all kinds of backgrounds, and that, while an RAF connection was helpful, it wasn’t necessary.

“The main thing is that our volunteers are happy to chat about a range of topics, and use their conversations to brighten people’s day,” he said.

Among those benefiting from the service is Marie Findlay whose RAF veteran husband died shortly after they moved house in 2018.

Marie said: “Brian’s death was a real shock, and, not having any local friends, I could have easily ended up alone if I hadn’t heard about Connections for Life.”

Within a month of contacting the RAF Association, Marie was getting regular phone calls from volunteer Mal Hodgson, a retired RAF Chief Technician.

Mal said: “Volunteering keeps me busy and helps me to make a real difference to people’s lives.

"Since I started calling Marie, she has grown in confidence, and I have helped her to find ways to connect with her local community.”

All RAF Association Connections for Life volunteers are asked to give a regular commitment of at least a couple of hours per month, and online training is provided.

The RAF Association’s Director of Welfare and Policy, Rory O’Connor, said: “Loneliness affects tens of thousands of people across the RAF community.

"Whether it’s a veteran struggling to adapt to life after service, or a family member facing difficulties alone, loneliness can be devastating to people’s mental and physical health.

“Our volunteers help to fight loneliness with friendship, creating a resilient, empowered and thriving RAF community of people who are able to remain independent.”

More information about volunteering with the RAF Association’s Connections for Life service is available at rafa.org.uk/connectionsforlife.

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