For nearly fifty years, The Fire Fighters Charity has had an ally in Ken Seager.
On his first day of firefighter training in August 1973, Ken was asked to become the rep for the then-Benevolent Fund for the duration of the 12-week course at the training school in Reigate. Upon returning to his station, he mentioned this to his sub officer and was put forward as Watch Rep, and, as he says, “I’ve never stepped off the merry-go-round since!”
Throughout his career and the time he spent as Brigade Secretary, Ken saw first-hand the support the Charity offers to those in need. He paid for a cellar of coal for an old widow who was struggling during a particularly cold winter, and organised for a financial contribution to a replacement motorbike to keep a retained firefighter from having to leave the brigade.
“I became enthralled,” he says “I thought, this is the charity at the coal face, helping people in their hour of need, and I am the person at the heart of it all on my patch; it was invigorating.”
Ken became a member of the Charity’s board of trustees, moving his way from Deputy Chair to Chair of the Board, a role he retired from five years ago.
“It was the right thing for me and for the Charity, but I’ve missed it,” he says. “I wanted more to be involved with, as my role as company member only really comes to life once a year. When [Communities Development Lead] Clare Hannaford approached me about helping to set up the Living Well Groups, I said yes instantly.”
During his time as Charity Chairman, engagement after retirement was a particularly pertinent discussion for Ken.
“People drift away from that day-to-day contact, and as the likelihood of someone needing our services increases, the likelihood of them thinking to reach out to us decreases,” he says. “My parents were typical of their generation of beneficiaries; my dad was a firefighter, and towards the end of his life, he could have really benefited from the Charity. He didn’t have the internet, his friends in the brigade had passed away and new ones didn’t know him. He had become anonymous to the Charity, and the Charity had become anonymous to him. I think this is fairly typical of a lot of people in the retired community.”
“People drift away from that day-to-day contact, and as the likelihood of someone needing our services increases, the likelihood of them thinking to reach out to us decreases.”
Intended to find a way for retired fire and service to reconnect with former colleagues and meet new faces, the group’s aim to tackle social isolation and loneliness among our older generation of beneficiaries.
“I’ve always been worried that there are people out there in need who don’t know about the Charity or the amazing services on offer,” he says. “It’s like having the best fire service in the world, but having no 999 system; what’s the point in having the best fire engines if no-one thinks to call them when they’re in trouble? We couldn’t have the fire and rescue service without means of communication between those who need help and those who deliver it, and the same is true of The Fire Fighters Charity. The Living Well Groups are part of that answer, establishing our own 999 system for those in need, and reconnecting people who would otherwise be disconnected.”
“It’s like having the best fire service in the world, but having no 999 system; what’s the point in having the best fire engines if no-one thinks to call them when they’re in trouble?”
Along with his former colleague, Ken Ashby, Ken runs the Stowmarket group, something he says gives him as much pleasure and fulfilment as it does for the people who attend.
“I love it,” he says. “It might sound like a trite thing to say, but I joined the fire service because I wanted to help people, and this gives me the opportunity to help my own people. And there’s nothing better than being involved with something right from the start, helping to shape it.”
While his group is still in its early days, Ken is hopeful for the future, with word of mouth already prompting more people to come to the second session than the first. A beneficiary who had received help during a stay at Harcombe House, our residential centre in Devon, spoke about his experiences, providing first-hand evidence of the life-changing support the Charity can provide.
“This is probably the last generation who doesn’t use the internet, so we have to bring these things to life for them in different ways.”
“For people who retired longer than four or five years ago, they had no idea how far the Charity has come in terms of physical and psychological support,” he says. “This is probably the last generation who doesn’t use the internet, so we have to bring these things to life for them in different ways.”
Ken also says having Ken Ashby help him run it makes the whole process even more enjoyable: “If you’re looking to volunteer and lead a Living Well Group – which I would absolutely encourage people to do – make sure you have a good partner by your side,” he says. “Like me, Ken has been involved with the Charity his whole career, although he’s not yet retired and is fitting this work around his full-time job at Newmarket Fire Station. I called him out of the blue to see if he’d be up for doing it with me, and he stepped up to the plate with expected enthusiasm, showing 110% support right from the outset.”
The Living Well Groups will only flourish with people like Ken taking the time to make them work, and he is urging others to follow him: “The small amount of work it takes to make these groups a success are far outweighed by the benefits, so don’t hesitate, get in touch today, and help those people who have spent their whole careers helping others.”
Living Well Group Volunteers receive full training before they begin, support on how to keep things running smoothly and advice around safeguarding and boundaries. Then all they need to do afterwards is commit to one day a month to run the regular sessions.
“Our Living Well Volunteers are the glue that keeps the retired fire and rescue community together,” says Clare. “They play the role of host, greeting people, making them feel included, planning content where necessary and, most importantly, making the cups of tea! As well as helping people benefit from the Charity’s support, there are a lot of benefits for the volunteers themselves; studies prove that people who volunteer generally feel happier and healthier, knowing they are giving something back.”
If you’re interested in becoming a Living Well Group volunteer or would like more information, contact Clare at CHannaford@firefighterscharity.org.uk or give her a ring on 01626 853639.