Support for our services

THOUSANDS of British troops from across the country are serving overseas leaving their families behind in the UK. This spring another 3,300 are leaving for Afghanistan, increasing the number deployed in that country alone to 5,700. Separation is always di

THOUSANDS of British troops from across the country are serving overseas leaving their families behind in the UK. This spring another 3,300 are leaving for Afghanistan, increasing the number deployed in that country alone to 5,700. Separation is always difficult for the families, and those needing help and support often turn to the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA). The organisation also exists to support retired service personnel and their dependants and it is estimated four million peopleare eligible for the charity's help.

LESLEY INNES looks at the work of SSAFA in East Cambridgeshire and across the county.

IN the last year alone, SSAFA dealt with 60,000 cases - 600 from within Cambridgeshire.

Service personnel, either active or retired, and their dependants know they can turn to the charity and they will be offered help which is totally confidential.

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Volunteers deal with a range of problems from financial, relationship breakdowns or bereavement to simply providing a friendly face and reassurance.

SSAFA set up its first branches in 1886 and over the last 120 years it has provided support through the Boer War, two World Wars, the Falklands crisis and conflict in the Gulf.

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In East Cambridgeshire, volunteers, known as caseworkers, work within the Ely and Huntingdon division.

They are highly-trained but give their time free of charge and the charity supports their work with fund-raising appeals throughout the year.

Retired air force wing commander, Bob Carr, OBE, works to promote the charity in the division.

Bob served with the ground supply forces across the world during his 34 years with the air force.

When he retired he was soon recruited by commercial airlines British Caledonian and British Airways before enjoying a third career with London Transport.

"I've retired three times," he said. "But I can't sit and do nothing. That would drive me up the wall. I made contact with SSAFA and was invited to handle its press and publicity."

Now Bob works tirelessly for the charity which is planning a major fund-raising concert in Ely Cathedral next year.

His role involves promoting its work to those who might need its services and encouraging others to give their support as volunteers.

He said: "The vast majority of people we help are those out of the services and their dependants. We even have some First World War dependants who are still eligible.

"We give quite a lot of help in cases of bereavement where a person has been left alone.

Sometimes it might be that the person is having difficulty filling out pension forms or problems have built up and they just need someone to talk to.

"It might be a case where a serviceman has been sent overseas leaving his wife and two young children and the bills have started running up and they don't know where to turn.

"It could even be help with arranging holidays linked with medical advice. An elderly person may not have had a holiday for 20 years and needs advice.

"We also offer long-term counselling with drink problems, prolonged illness or problems relating to the children. The range of issues is very broad."

SSAFA provides a confidential support line which gives independent and non-judgmental advice to callers suffering from any type of difficulty.

Those who work on the support lines are highly skilled with experience gained in a variety of welfare organisations or caring professions.

The high standard of the line has recently been recognised with a quality accreditation by the Telephone Helpline Association - a mark of professionalism few national help lines achieve.

SSAFA's support line can be contacted from 10.30am to 10.30pm 365 days a year on 0800 731 4880. Its Ely and Huntingdon division can be contacted on 01480 399339.


# 1885 - Charity's first appeal for funds and the Princess of Wales, the future Queen Alexandra, becomes the first president.

# 1886 - The first branches are set up, followed a year later by the first overseas branches.

# 1899 - First challenge for the charity with the event of the Boer War.

# 1939-1945 - SSAFA begins general family welfare work and, as a result of the blitz in Liverpool in 1941, the first of 16 emergency rest homes are opened in Cheshire. Air raids prompt the charity to open children's homes across the country.

# 1962 - Campaigning starts for war widows' pensions to be made free of tax but the aim is not achieved until 1979.

# 1982 - Volunteers give support to wives and mothers of those serving in the Falklands War.

# 1997 - Confidential support line launched.

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