Members of the RAF family are now able to make new friends from the comfort of their own homes.
The Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund is highlighting its new friendship service as part of a Reaching Out campaign launched in West Sussex.
The aim is to help RAF veterans and their families to banish the winter blues by seeking help from people who understand.
Paul Hughesdon, director of welfare and policy, said: “Too often, RAF veterans and their surviving partner simply don’t know that help is at hand, that we can help.
"Sometimes they think that a couple of years in National Service weren’t enough to be eligible for consideration, that there is always someone more deserving than them, or they don’t want to trouble anyone with their problems.
“But the message of our campaign is simple. If you or your partner were in the RAF and are in financial need, or you need advice and guidance or support, we will try to help. We passionately believe that no-one in the RAF family should face adversity alone, so we will always try to help.”
RAF widow Margaret Peckham, 88, from Worthing, has recently joined a telephone friendship group and found it to be a great comfort. The service allows members to connect over the phone once a week, at a set time, from their homes.
Margaret's husband David was her best friend and soulmate but he died in 2014. After 60 years of marriage, Margaret was living alone for the first time in her life, with very little interaction or contact with others.
Margaret said: “When my husband died, it was very difficult because I’d had him for so long, all my life, I’d had somebody.
"I moved straight from my parents’ house into our marital home, so I’d never lived on my own before David passed away."
The couple met at a dance in Hastings when Margaret was 20 and, for her, it was love at first sight. Margaret told a friend at the dance she had met the man she would marry, and just four months later, they did indeed walk down the aisle.
David had joined the RAF as an apprentice aged 16 and went on to become a sergeant. Thanks to his service history, Margaret was eligible for support from the benevolent fund, the RAF’s leading welfare charity.
She is a regular visitor at Princess Marina House, its respite home in Littlehampton, where she uses the lunch club. She also uses the telephone friendship group from home once a week.
Margaret said: "The hardest thing about living on your own after 60 years of marriage is not having anything to discuss with anyone and not being able to talk about your day when you’ve come to the evening and you want to chat.
"The telephone friendship groups really have changed my life. I’ve got something to look forward to every week. You meet so many interesting people with stories to tell.
“The future’s now looking brighter.”
Visit www.rafbf.org/help or telephone 0800 169 2942 for more information. The service is available to anyone who served in the RAF and their relatives.