Age UK is a national charity that works to help everyone make the most of later life, whatever their circumstances. The Charity and local Age UK’s across the country have a long history of providing services which help address loneliness, for example through offering a range of different local activities for older people to enjoy, including lunch clubs, cooking classes, dance lessons, and crucial advice when there’s no one else to turn to.

A veteran using the befriending service

As part of this, Age UK has teamed up with SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity to provide a dedicated support service called Joining Forces. 

Joining Forces is a scheme to support the quality of life and wellbeing of veterans born before 1950. Delivered in partnership with SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity and funded by the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust, this initiative provides tailored advice and support to help older veterans, as well as their families and carers, maintain their independence, stay connected and feel included within their local community*. 

As well as accessing advice via a dedicated online hub www.ageuk.org.uk/joiningforces, veterans are also able to access face-to-face support, available at twelve locations across the country. Older veterans who are feeling lonely and isolated can sign up to befriending schemes to be matched with another veteran, or a befriend-er through Age UK’s Call in Time telephone befriending service.

One of the veterans who has benefited from the Joining Forces scheme is Michael, 78, who lives in West Cumbria. Michael worked in the Navy for 20 years, eight of which were spent working on submarines. However, more recently he had been suffering from health and mobility problems, which made it difficult for him to do things round the house and get out and about.

Michael’s second wife struggled to cope with his health problems and after the relationship broke down he moved into a new flat. He found it hard to manage as it was upstairs, resulting in a couple of falls. “I couldn’t climb in and out of the bath and the place was so cold,” Michael recalls. He became more self-conscious and found himself feeling low. 

“I couldn’t go to sleep because I feared not waking up and there being no one to discover me for weeks. The loneliness was hitting me terrifically.”

Michael had problems walking long distances and was unable to cut his toenails. He knew that his local Age UK, based in West Cumbria, ran a toenail cutting service, so he found the courage to go along.

After speaking with Michael, Age UK West Cumbria put him in touch with the Joining Forces team. Michael now goes to twice weekly lunch clubs and day trips to local museums and places of interest, which take place once a month. He has attended Christmas parties for local veterans and has also been able to move into a ground floor flat in a residential complex for older people.

“One of my problems was that I hadn’t been sociable because of my time spent working in the Navy and the effect this had on my life.”

Veterans can also benefit from Call in Time, a free telephone befriending service offering a weekly phone call from volunteers. Not having someone to talk to regularly can be lonely and isolating, particularly if you’re used to sharing your home and time with others. The friendship and wellbeing programme provides older people with a friendly voice and a safe and comfortable environment to chat. The service’s trained volunteers make weekly phone calls which last for around half an hour, providing a chance to chat about anything from and hobbies to day-to-day issues.

“They have done so much for me, I have lots to look forward to and feel a lot better, a lot happier.”

To find out more about what support Age UK offers and to find your local Age UK visit www.ageuk.org.uk or contact the Charity’s Advice Line 0800 169 6565. Calls are free and lines are open 365 days a year.

Age UK

*Joining Forces is supported by the Aged Veterans Fund funded by the Chancellor using LIBOR funds. Joining Forces is delivered in 12 locations across England, which will involve a partnership between the local Age UK and local SSAFA branch, offering person-centred conversations to older veterans and their family or carer. These local projects will take place in the following areas: Cheshire East, North Yorkshire and Darlington, Gloucestershire, Lancashire, Leicestershire & Rutland, Nottingham & Nottinghamshire, Portsmouth, Tyne & Wear, West Cumbria, Wirral, Wolverhampton and Herefordshire and Worcestershire.