'Friendship has got me through the darkest of hours...'

A WAR hero who survived some of the most terrifying battles of the second world war is part of a pilot scheme to tackle isolation.

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War hero Alex Brock is to take part in a scheme to tackle isolation
War hero Alex Brock is to take part in a scheme to tackle isolation

Alex Brock, 89, from East Kilbride, said living alone in old age has presented the greatest challenge of his life.

Mr Brock, a Royal Navy sailor whose wartime experiences included narrowly cheating death after his light cruiser, HMS Arethusa, struck a German mine, has benefited from Voluntary Action South Lanarkshire's (VASLan) new telephone befriending project.

Great-grandfather Alex says the scheme is proving to be a vital boost for him.

He said: "I've seen the very worst of war, from merchant ships being struck by U-boats in the dead of night, cities being relentlessly bombed to nearly being sunk myself in the English channel, just after D-Day.

"It was always companionship and friendship that got me through the darkest of hours. I feel the phone scheme has provided me with that very same comfort and support today."

Alex has led an active lifestyle, including running a busy shop in Glasgow. In the last three years, however, his health has deteriorated.

He added: "My wife, Helen died 20 years ago and all my old mates have passed away.

"Failing eyesight has really impacted on my independence. Although I get out and have forged new friendships at a local blind club and receive visits from home support and health workers, it can still be be tough living alone.

"You can get little worries out of perspective and before you know it you're carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.

"But receiving the telephone calls and just knowing someone is there with a listening ear and a kind word has been a huge boost mentally."

VASLan set up the befriending scheme as part of the multi-agency Reshaping Care for Older People (RCOP) agenda.

RCOP is looking at ways to support the growing number of over-65s, focusing on providing more help to enable older people to remain in their homes and stay connected to their communities.

The scheme has been rolled out in winter, when older people living alone can be particularly vulnerable.

A team of volunteers, who are matched with recipients in terms of interests and background, have been trained to talk regularly on the phone to older people.

Brian Duffy, of VASLan, said: "When our befriender calls, the older person knows there is someone out there who is looking out for them and is there to listen.

"That can be a huge boost if they don't have a lot of contact with others."

RCOP includes organisations in South Lanarkshire, including VASLan, NHS Lanarkshire and South Lanarkshire Council.

The new service is also set to have practical benefits for partnership working, with other agencies being able to refer people for support.

Brian added: "In a scenario where a befriending volunteer finds out something is wrong, contact will be made with the person's named contact in the first instance or with statutory agencies. It's about reassurance too."

Places are still available for those who would benefit from the service. VASLan staff are keen to hear from older people in the region living alone, or from family members or neighbours who have concerns for someone who is. Contact the team on 01698 300390.

stef.lach@heraldandtimes.co.uk

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