Following a successful trial earlier this year, the first Living Well Group met in Wales last week. Retired fire and rescue personnel were invited to attend the session in the community room of Aberdare Fire Station in Wales.

“By setting up Living Well Groups, we can stay connected to our retired beneficiaries and they can stay connected to each other,” says┬áCommunities Development Lead Clare Hannaford. “They can reminisce and share their experiences of working within the fire service, and we can provide relevant information on living well in retirement.

“Just because people don’t necessarily need to come to us for treatment doesn’t mean we don’t want to stay in contact with them. We sometimes lose touch with people when they retire from the fire and rescue service, either because they don’t realise they’re still a beneficiary or they just drift away from us, so this is trying to ensure everyone can stay socially connected.”

The group was coordinated by volunteer Eddie Gilbertson, who already thinks their space might prove to be too small as word got out of how enjoyable the session was.

“We hope these meetings will help more people build these important social interactions and feel like they are part of something.”

Clare Hannaford

“Needing room for everyone who wants to come along is a nice problem to have,” he says. “I’ve been in the fire brigade a long time, both in this country and in Australia, and I know a lot of ex firefighters who need advice on living a better, healthier life. For those of us who were in the service during the 60s and 70s when health and safety was less of a concern than it is now, we’re all suffering with various illnesses. I have asbestos in my lung and had cancer of the throat and lung, despite never having touched a cigarette in my life. I’ve finished with treatment now, but radiation and chemo take away some of the good as well as the bad, so I’ve had to adjust my eating habits. Still, I count myself lucky to be walking around every day, so I want to keep helping people in similar positions. We just have to keep doing what we can.”

“When you get a group of fire and rescue service people in a room together, even if they don’t know each other at first, they have so much shared experience they instantly find things to talk about,” says Clare. “It was a really lovely environment to be part of, full of joking and laughter.”

The Living Well Groups will now begin to be established around the country, with the next one happening in Suffolk.

“Life is very different for everyone in retirement, but especially for fire and rescue personnel who spent their entire careers surrounded by their peers,” says Clare. “We hope these meetings will help more people build these important social interactions and feel like they are part of something. Being socially connected and feeling like we belong can really improve the way we feel and has a positive effect on our health.”

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