This month we spoke to Derek Boxell, a newly matched Befriender, in the south west who is volunteering with the support of the SW Area Welfare Officer, Glenford Bishop. We spoke to Derek about his role.
I joined the RAF in 1974 as an Airman and went on to serve for nearly 38 years, working through the ranks and was commissioned in 1990. I worked in the Air Traffic Control Specialisation and left in 2011 as a squadron leader. I had a varied career having served in or visited Germany, Cyprus, the Falkland Islands, the Gulf, Afghanistan, Gibraltar and Australia. I held roles within the service as a controller, an instructor and an examiner, and had the good fortune to travel wherever the RAF had air traffic controllers to examine.
I have been a member of the RAF Association ever since I joined the RAF and I was also a RAF Association Liaison Officer while out in Cyprus in the late 1990s.
How did you find out about the volunteering role and what made you want to get involved?
I saw on television that a national charity had identified the issue of loneliness in old aged pensioners and that they wanted to try and resolve this. One day I was reading the Association’s website and saw that they were also looking at the same concerns of loneliness in veterans and had launched a service to reduce the isolation and loneliness of the RAF family. I saw the advert for the role of a Befriender I felt that this was the best way that I could assist. Even if all I could do was to go and have a cup of tea with someone, pull up a sandbag and have a chat or exchange service stories with an individual or talk about what is going on now within the services.
What appealed about the role that you do?
What appeals about the role now that I am matched is the joy of the fact that I can bring a smile to the people that I talk to. The RAF is a big family, you have an automatic connection and ability to exchange memories. I admire the fact that beneficiaries look forward to my visits.
Why did you choose to become a Befriender?
I chose the Association’s befriending service above other charities that are undertaking similar schemes because I felt that I could use my 38 years’ experience of being in the RAF to its advantage. I am able to start a conversation straight away with an individual as there is a common bond between me and my beneficiary, regardless of the difference in the service period.
After your training what were you most looking forward to?
From a personal point it was helping people. I wanted to meet people and offer whatever support the individual needed to reduce their possible isolation. To aid in the identification of need, and if the need was outside my role profile, by talking to them I could identify and highlight it to the Area Welfare Officer to get the right support.
What is the best thing about your volunteering role with the Association?
I gain a great sense of satisfaction from helping someone. I can walk away from the two befriending cases that I have at present and feel and know that I have made a positive impact on them. It can be the little things that have the biggest impact.
If you were to recommend volunteering for the Association to others, what would you say?
I would point out that whatever your age, young service personnel, ex-service personnel, and whatever your experience you can reduce a beneficiary’s loneliness or isolation. I would explain the benefits and the rewards that I have achieved and that of a beneficiary as no two beneficiaries have the same needs. It makes someone’s life happier and interesting.
I would say to an individual who wants to get involved: use your spare time wisely and build your own confidence to talk to people.
What impact does your volunteering role have on the people you work with or have worked with?
The gentlemen beneficiaries I support have different needs and I enjoy the fact that they and I look forward to my visits for different reasons. One gentleman from the WWII era, loves to talk about what he did during the war, but he also likes to talk about the RAF now. Another gentleman who has been to some of the bases that I have served on, loves to hear me talk about those bases and it brings such a smile to his face.
What difference has volunteering made to you?
It can improve your confidence in communicating with a complete stranger. It has also assisted in the other volunteering roles I undertake with another charity and at the Royal International Air Tattoo, Fairford, with talking to and managing people. I feel that I have been able to ask questions that before I may have felt a little uncomfortable in asking and receiving the response.