Suffolk is selected for a new scheme to help lonely RAF veterans
PUBLISHED: 07:30 09 February 2019 | UPDATED: 10:15 09 February 2019
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A new pilot scheme aimed at supporting RAF veterans who face loneliness and isolation is being launched in Suffolk.
The RAF Benevolent Fund charity says its community engagement worker project will help older RAF veterans get involved in their local communities.
Suffolk was chosen, along with Norfolk, Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, for the two-year pilot as high numbers of RAF veterans have settled there after service.
The scheme comes in response to research carried out by the Fund which highlighted loneliness and isolation as issues that most concern the older generation of RAF veterans.
Pete Ashcroft, welfare projects executive at the RAF Benevolent Fund, said from the responses of those questioned it equated to 85,000 potential veterans in need of the charity’s help.
He said: “Loneliness is very subjective, it’s about how a veteran feels. The community engagement worker project is just one measure we have introduced to tackle the issue of loneliness and social isolation among older veterans. Other new initiatives include a telephone friendship group service and group wellbeing breaks.
“This year marks the RAF Benevolent Fund’s centenary and we are asking the public to help us reach out to the members of the RAF family who may have fallen off the radar and let them know, we are here to help.
“We want to ensure every RAF veteran, no matter how long they served, receives the support their service to their country deserves.”
Declan Geraghty, 44, from Thetford, who had a 24-year career as a RAF armourer, said it was the “opportunity of a lifetime” to take on the Suffolk community engagement worker role.
He will get to know the social activities, groups and associations across Suffolk and work with individuals to understand what the barriers are to them becoming more socially engaged and help them to overcome that.
It could involve attending a veterans’ breakfast meeting with someone for the first time to establishing activities where none currently exist.
Mr Geraghty said: “It has always been deeply humbling, the sacrifices that whose who fought before us made and as an RAF veteran I have some insight into that.”
He said he feels like he is part of the RAF family again and the project was about veterans feeling they are part of that family, and the wider community, again.
“Success in this job is going to be very different for each person,” he added.
Ernie Broom, who is the Wings Appeal officer for the RAF Association (RAFA) in Bury St Edmunds and Haverhill, described “loneliness as a terrible, terrible thing” that affected many older people, not just veterans.
Mr Broom, 82, who was a ground crew electrician in Number 1 Fighter Squadron, said: “In the RAF every minute of your day is organised - that’s how it is for all the services - and you play hard.
“And when that all finishes and you are into civvy street it’s different all together. You have to make your own thing.
“If you come out and then you have the misfortune like I had of losing a partner it’s very, very difficult.
“This is the reason why I got so involved in so many things.”
Mr Broom, who received a British Empire Medal in 2015 for services to the community in Bury St Edmunds, said issues like loss of confidence and health and mobility problems could all contribute to veterans not being more involved in activities.
He said RAFA also has welfare officers who can support veterans.
The RAF Benevolent Fund supports current and former members of the RAF, their partners and dependants.
For more information see here.