Lonely veterans hoping to move to a retirement community so they can relive the camaraderie of their RAF days are asking County Durham residents for help.
The men and women, who are scattered across the UK, are appealing for donations to fund the completion of a charity’s housing project so they can settle together.
The Royal Air Forces Association, which supports serving and ex-RAF personnel and their families, is converting its former Rothbury House Hotel in Northumberland into 26 retirement apartments.
An initial appeal led to half of the £500,000 transformation cost being raised from Association members and grant-making trusts, allowing building work to start. Now veterans are asking members of the public to join in to get the project over the line.
Among them is widower Tom Brown (87), who served with the RAF in Germany in the 1950s.
Tom, who has survived cancer twice in recent years, said:
“I made life-long friends in the RAF, and many of us met annually for group holidays. Now there are just three of us left, so it would be marvellous to live among other people who served in the air force.”
Having lived alone since his wife died in 2000, Tom used to be a regular guest at Rothbury House before its doors as a respite hotel closed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said: “If I could live permanently at Rothbury House, I’d jump for joy!”
Work to provide half of the 26 new apartments planned for Rothbury House began in the summer, and it is hoped the first residents will be able to move in by the spring.
Tom, who lived in Cornwall for 18 years before moving to County Durham in 2010, added: “It would be wonderful if people across County Durham could donate to the RAF Association’s appeal, and help me and other veterans to have a happier retirement.”
The RAF Association’s Director of Welfare and Policy, Rory O’Connor, said research showed an urgent need for more good quality affordable retirement accommodation for veterans and their spouses.
“With an estimated 40% of RAF veterans living alone, we know that, tragically, isolation and loneliness is a huge problem. We want to offer more people the opportunity to relive the camaraderie of their time in the RAF, and Rothbury House would be perfect for that.”
Rory praised the generosity of the appeal’s supporters so far, with several RAF Association branches, including Aylesbury and Halton, Alnwick and Jersey, giving significant sums.
He said: “We’re also grateful to several trusts, including the Sir James Knott Trust, the Veterans’ Foundation and Selkirk No. 2 Trust, for providing grants. Companies including MBDA Missile Systems have also made donations.”