The last year has seen people right across the country struggling with loneliness and social isolation like never before, having gone months on end without seeing their friends and wider families.
But for retired South Wales firefighter Brian Hull, it all came a year after the most difficult time in his life, when his wife passed away unexpectedly at home.
He says the sudden loss was hard to bear, but having remained in contact with the Charity after his retirement, he was told about our Living Well Groups. He attended one shortly after her death in 2019 and met many people he’d worked with previously – reconnecting with them after years apart.
Groups meet regularly and discuss anything of interest to their members. Guest speakers from the Charity and beyond cover all sorts of topics, from health and wellbeing advice, fundraising efforts and sharing stories of ways the Charity has helped people.
Now, as we mark Loneliness Awareness Week, Brian, who retired from the fire service in 1993, is sharing his own experience of the groups and how they’ve helped him – while recommending that any retired UK firefighters struggling with feelings of isolation get in touch.
“My wife passed away in March 2019,” says Brian. “I was told about the Living Well Group near me and, with it being near one of the stations I worked at in my time, I met colleagues I’d worked with previously. That was so nice.
“The classes were really good because they were informative too, you’d get talks from other charities, tips to keep fit, financial tips, that kind of thing.
“It was nice to meet those former colleagues personally rather than over the telephone. The only time you’d see many of them otherwise would be at a sad event like a funeral.”
While the pandemic meant the face-to-face groups had to stop temporarily, they have continued online throughout – and now we’re preparing to welcome the face-to-face meetings back too in the coming months.
Brian says: “I haven’t done the digital ones but I’m looking forward to the face-to-face ones starting again. Having the groups keeps my interests going. The fire service was like a big family. You spent a lot of time with your colleagues, you ate together, you slept together, you spent all your time together.
“Having these groups now is a good chance to keep in touch with them. It’s a support when someone experiences a loss, and it was a great support for me when I lost my wife.
“She was the life and soul of the party – still in employment at the age of 71. She was a very outgoing person and when she passed away there were literally 300 odd people at the funeral.
“Being able to keep in touch with my friends and former colleagues really helped. I’d recommend it to anyone. You don’t want to dwell on your loss for too long and the groups bring other interests into your life when you need them most.
“Now, after Covid, it’s a good time to join and make those connections… You’re looking after each other in many ways. It’s a good get together and something to look forward to every month.”
He adds: “People reading my story, please know from me that it’s well worth joining these Living Well Groups and keeping in touch with your colleagues.”
Find out more about our Living Well Groups here.