Befriending scheme which tackles loneliness

Befriending scheme which tackles loneliness

Mike Curtis tells the story of how a Rotarian and an RAF widow bonded over Burma – a friendship which has helped spawn a befriending project.

Stroma Williams was only 12 weeks old when her father was killed in a flying accident in 1944.

Now, nearly 75 years later, the wartime experiences of her father have been surprisingly revived thanks to a new befriending partnership between the Royal Air Forces Association and Rotary International.

An email to her Rotarian husband about the new scheme was seen by Stroma and she asked if she could volunteer as a befriender in North Wales.

After training, she was assigned to two people and discovered that the husband of one of them may well have met her father as they were both RAF pilots in Burma.

“The husband of this lady survived the war, but my father died when his Mosquito aircraft broke up due to the humidity. We realised both men had served as pilots on neighbouring squadrons in Burma and may well have met,” said Stroma.

“The RAF connection has certainly given us plenty to talk about, chatting about what life must have been like for wartime pilots and learning new things about what my father and this lady’s husband did and faced during the war.”

Stroma admitted that the RAF befriending scheme had not only helped her, but enabled her to give something back. And she wondered how her mother may have benefited had a similar scheme been around.

The befriending scheme definitely helps people are are lonely, bored and for whom time hangs heavy.”

She added: “I realised that if my late Mum had a befriender as well as family, it would have made a world of difference to her.

“The two people that I go to see just enjoy chatting, especially about things that they know and remember. I was quite surprised that there are no lulls in the conversation.

“The befriending scheme definitely helps people who are lonely, bored and for whom times hangs heavy. It helps to exercise the minds!”

The RAF celebrated its centenary on April 1st – formed in 1918 as an amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service.

One hundred years on, and seven representatives of Rotary in North Wales and parts of north-west England have been trained as befrienders by the association since last summer. There are hopes that the partnership can be rolled out across the UK.

Around 85,000 of the 170,000 RAF veterans in the UK have said that they experience loneliness. The scheme pairs a veteran with one of the association’s trained volunteers who keeps in touch with visits and chats.

John Bird is another Rotarian from North Wales who has volunteered for the scheme. He said that the Rotary motto ‘Service Above Self’ chimes perfectly with the RAF and with the service that military veterans gave to their country.

He also sees parallels between Rotary and the RAF Association which share similar values and are both there to help people. He described the befriender training as ‘superb’ and hopes that the partnership will be developed.

I have been matched up with an RAF veteran not far away. His face lit up when he found a new face to talk to.”

“I have been matched up with an RAF veteran not far away. His face lit up when he found a new face to talk to,” said John.

“It is fascinating to talk to such people and learn about their life. He feels good as someone is showing an interest in him. There is an opportunity to change someone’s life for the better. I believe the befriender partnership can really make a difference.”

Rory O’Connor, Director of Welfare and Policy at the Royal Air Forces Association, is delighted with the Rotary partnership. He said: “It is a welcome boost for our befriending which will help us give invaluable welfare support to the RAF family.

“Like so many of our volunteers, we hope that the first seven Rotary befriending volunteers get as much out of this as they will bring to the veterans.”

Amanda Watkin, General Secretary at Rotary in Great Britain and Ireland, is hopeful that this scheme will blossom. She added: “Like the RAF Association, we are an international family of people whose common goal is to help others.

“We see this befriending project as an important part of our drive to help communities through our volunteer work and help make people’s lives better. And who deserves support more than our forces veterans?

“If this pilot partnership works out well, we will discuss with the RAF Association whether we can help them expand it across the Rotary network in the UK.”

To volunteer or if you know an RAF veteran who would benefit from this scheme, please call 0800 0182 361 or visit the Royal Air Forces Association website.