How one woman is helping isolated veterans at Christmas

Volunteer Ann Kadiri has been offering the hand of friendship to lonely veterans for over three years. We caught up with her at her Christmas party.

Ann Kadiri is a remarkable volunteer; setting up The Friendship and Companionship Group for isolated veterans in her community. The group started in the autumn of 2013 with only four people in Ann’s local coffee shop. In just three years, the group has grown to more than 40 members, overcoming obstacles along the way.

Ann's story

Ann Kadiri and Santa at the veteran's Christmas Party.

Ann Kadiri and Santa Claus.

Ann’s life has always been influenced by the military: she grew up in Plymouth with its rich naval history, and her father, grandfather, and great grandfather all served in the forces. She always knew that she wanted to be in uniform, but instead of signing up to the military, she followed her father into the prison service after he left the Army.

After retiring, Ann joined The Royal British Legion due to her strong attachment to the Armed Forces and their families. Through the Legion she became a prison inmate’s visitor, using her previous experience to help those with military backgrounds on the inside.

“When I visited people in prison, they said they never told anyone they were from the Forces because they would get singled out by the rest of the inmates. They could be picked on and bullied."

As well as being a prison visitor with the Legion, Ann also volunteers as a hospital and home visitor for those in need.

Giving veterans back their confidence

At heart, Ann is a people person. Through her welfare work she has found that each veteran is different; each with incredible stories to tell but with hardly anyone to share them with.

“We had a granddad come in who had recently lost his wife. He had a cup of coffee and a cry and said: ‘Ann, I feel better now.’”

The Friendship and Companionship Group began with just four people meeting in a coffee shop belonging to one of Ann’s friends. They met regularly for a coffee and a chat.

“It grew from word of mouth and putting flyers up in the coffee shop, in windows and in the library.”

Soon, there were too many attendees for the coffee shop, so they moved to a Wetherspoon’s for extra space. However, the group kept growing and soon needed to find an even bigger venue. Using her friendly charm, Ann managed to secure the use of a room in her local athletic club for free.

In the group, Ann has found that whether the veterans are young or old, they find it difficult to ask for help.

The members enjoy a Christmas lunch

A raffle was held with a variety of Christmas presents.

“They find it embarrassing, it’s usually at the last minute that they ask for help. They prefer to ask someone they know they can trust: after a week of coming to the group they might reveal they have a problem and so we suggest a solution. The older generation of veterans want a hand up, not a hand out, while the younger ones want to help.”

Sometimes, all people want is a bit of company.

Ann met one member last year when she was watching a remembrance parade go by with the veterans. She saw him standing on his own with his head bowed, so she went over and they got chatting.

“He’d just lost his wife, and you could see the pain and the hurt in his eyes. So I said why don’t you come to the friendship group? We sit and chat - put the world to rights.

“He came down and joined the group. A couple of months ago he said: ‘Ann, I am a completely different person to the one you met six months ago’. It’s the hand of friendship, that’s all that’s needed.”

Without Ann, there wouldn’t be a group for these 40 veterans, and she’s keen for people around the country to emulate what she’s done.

A veteran at the Christmas party.

Ann's been running the group for nearly three years, providing a vital role to prevent isolation in the veteran community.

How can people replicate Ann’s success?

The aim of the group is in the name: friendship and companionship. Ann does nearly 20 visits a week, and she’s set up a telephone buddy system: a member is linked with someone who is less mobile, someone who can't get out often or who doesn’t get many visitors, and they phone them every two weeks.

Ann has kept the group running off its own fundraising activities, such as raffles and Christmas lunches.

“You can do this kind of thing yourself, the first step to find the people: go to care homes, ask people if their relatives are veterans or put a notice in the library.

Ann Kadiri Award Christmas Party.

Ann's hard work doesn't go unnoticed by the community, and she was awarded the National Chairman's Award in 2016.

Ann’s fantastic work was formally recognised by the Legion with the presentation of the National Chairman’s Award at Annual Conference 2016.

“There is a need out there; all you need to do is find a way to fill it.”

There are many ways to volunteer with The Royal British Legion, from collecting money for the Poppy Appeal to becoming a caseworker. You can give any amount of time you like, from a few hours a week to a few days every year. Find out more about volunteering for the Legion.

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