This month we spoke to Roger Matthews, a Befriender who supports beneficiaries in Sussex and whose grandfather was a pilot in WWII. Roger works as a transport manager and health and safety advisor for a furniture manufacturer on the south coast.
Roger spoke to us about how the RAF Association has always been there, and since he was very young, the RAF Association are one of his earliest memories of a military charity. His grandfather, who is now 97, spoke of the Association and his earliest first hand memories are from the time Roger spent in the Air Cadets, pre his Royal Air Force service from 1996 to 1999.
How did you find out about the Befriending role and what appealed about it?
I have a little spare time and I wanted to do some voluntary work in the local community with a military charity, ideally an RAF one. I did a quick internet search and found there were opportunities locally with the RAF Association and subsequently found the Befriending information on the Association’s website.
The Association stood out because of the camaraderie and meeting like-minded former service people.
Why did you choose to support the RAF Association and want to get involved?
The welfare work that the Association carries out is very direct, it’s front line. And it provides a lot of support for veterans and the wider RAF family.
What appeals about getting involved in the Befriending Service is the talking to others about their former service. It’s incredibly interesting – I am learning more about national service and about areas of the history of the RAF that I am not that familiar with. I started befriending in July 2016 and have supported two beneficiaries since then, both on a regular basis.
What is the best thing about your volunteering role with the Association?
I know that the little bit of time I can give can make a huge difference to somebody. It can give them a real boost and sense of purpose. It helps them know that what they have done in their former service has been of immense benefit and that they are still a useful part of society and can still contribute. I think that’s important.
If you were to recommend volunteering for the Association to others, what would you say?
It’s an immensely rewarding role. If you’re looking at what you can get out of it, it’s very rewarding – knowing that you can enhance the life of someone who is lonely, vulnerable, and might not get out much and making that difference on a weekly or fortnightly visit. A little bit of your time can really make a tremendous difference to somebody’s life.
I would say that the training you are given is excellent – second to none. Really good quality. Take the training opportunities that are offered because they really do arm you with the right tools you need go out and help. You’ll get great training, support from your Area Welfare Team and you get to make a difference, a really genuine difference. There is also continuation of training as well as ‘bolt on’ courses to complement the initial training course.
What impact does your volunteering role have on the people you work with or have worked with?
The first beneficiary, I helped regularly for several weeks. The gentleman came out of hospital after a long period and I helped him get his bus pass sorted out. He wanted me to help get him out and about and a little bit further afield in his wheelchair. That has had a positive impact on him, allowing him to become a bit more independent.
I also visit another beneficiary and his wife regularly. The gentleman has severe dementia and his wife is his full time career. When I visit she can go off and do a few bits and pieces around the house, safe in the knowledge that I’m engaging in conversation with her husband and keeping him occupied. During my last visit she did mention that after my visits he is visibly less agitated, and she thinks my presence has a calming effect, which is lovely to hear.
Certainly, once the people you are befriending start talking freely about a particular area, you roll with their conversation and steer it into the positive and try to be a bit uplifting. You have to have a certain amount of empathy about where they are at that point in time. It’s about coaching the best out of that memory. I’ve done the course and the Dementia Friends training too, but I’m not an expert. It’s not about being an expert, but about having awareness and being courteous to that individual. I certainly let them steer the conversation without making too many switches in subject as that can be disorientating for them.
What difference has volunteering made to you? i.e. in a practical – new skills, emotional – confidence or social – meeting people
As a manager of people at work I hope I am reasonably good at talking to people and getting the best out of them. But the befriending training has helped me to be a better listener, and understand that listening is a real skill – and active listening is really important. If you can demonstrate to someone that you are listening and taking an interest, that is going to have great value in befriending. And bringing that into my day job is a benefit; they might now think, ‘This guy cares what I am talking about’. It’s very easy, otherwise, to get into a comfort zone in the day-to-day grind of work.
When you are visiting someone for the Association, you want your beneficiary to open up and talk – so you are conversing. It’s the root of why you are there, but you are also keeping an eye out for other things that may need to be raised with the area welfare teams.