John Lewis approached retired Partner and current OA Head of Benevolence, Evelyn Strouts, about an article on the important role of voluntary Honorary Representatives (Hon Reps) in the work of the Officers’ Association.
She was joined by Dorothy Jones, also a retired Partner and active Hon Rep for the OA. Here is the article in full:
It’s amazing the things that happen on the way back from a Partnership Christmas Lunch… Retired Victoria Partner Evelyn Strouts, who is now Head of Benevolence at the Officers’ Association (OA), was travelling with fellow retired Partner Dorothy Jones (previously Macrow), and by the end of the journey had persuaded her to volunteer as an ‘Honorary Representative’ for the OA.
The charity’s role is to help former Officers find employment, as well as providing advice and (in cases of need) financial support. Honorary Representatives (known in house as ‘Hon Reps’) play a vital part in helping the OA make decisions about the financial help it gives. Around 200 of these local volunteers visit applicants in their homes to collect the detailed and personal information the OA needs when considering each case.
“Eyes and Ears of the OA”
“Dorothy is an ex-RAF Officer herself, as well as being a former Partnership Registrar and Trustee of the Golden Jubilee Trust, so I knew she would be perfect,” says Evelyn. “The role of an Hon Rep is to be the eyes and ears of the OA around the country. Hon Reps need to be discreet, sensitive, empathetic and non-judgemental in their dealings with beneficiaries. Most importantly, they need to be good listeners, and be prepared to deal with personal and sensitive information – often in circumstances when beneficiaries are ill and/or distressed.”
Evelyn, former Principal Registrar Waitrose and latterly Head of Advertising and Marketing for John Lewis (as well as a former WRNS Officer), explains that former Officers often find themselves in financial difficulties as a result of family breakdown, injury, physical or mental illness, redundancy, bereavement and inadequate pension provision. “Our work is targeted at people who cannot afford an adequate standard of living,” she says. “We aim to support them to live a more independent life, to maintain a socially acceptable standard of living and to retain their dignity.”
Effective support for retired officers
Dorothy points out that Officers in the Armed Forces “are trained to lead by supporting and guiding their subordinates, which carries the burden of not talking to them about their own issues, as that could be seen as a sign of weakness. So when they or their families do have problems, they find it difficult to ask for help.
“Using my experience as a Registrar, I try to establish the facts and identify ways in which we can deliver the most effective support to improve the quality of life for those in need. For example, the OA bought an electric riser chair for a 91-year-old retired squadron leader who had serious mobility issues. He could not afford the capital outlay for a new chair, and was spending much of his time in bed.”
The OA’s financial help is wide ranging. In 2015, it awarded allowances to 459 individuals on low incomes; gave one-off grants to 361 people for the purchase of items such as disability equipment; provided help to 47 beneficiaries in Care Homes; and advised 926 people about benefits, maximising income, reducing costs and managing debt.
Honorary Representatives such as Dorothy are responsible for conducting in-depth interviews in applicants’ homes, helping them complete application forms and submitting a written report of their findings to the OA’s Benevolence Department. All details are treated with the utmost confidentiality. A specially tailored reporting system allows Honorary Representatives to help applicants identify and articulate their needs, and the changes they can make to improve their lives. Six key areas are discussed: finances, housing, health and self-care, activities, social life and wellbeing.
Working with the applicant, the Honorary Representative identifies which step on a scale best describes their circumstances and feelings in each of these areas. The aim is to develop an all-round picture of the applicant’s life, pinpointing where help might be needed most.
The reporting process is repeated when beneficiaries receive their annual review, allowing the OA to see where progress has been made and whether there are still areas of concern.
“Our aim is to take an increasingly holistic approach, looking at all aspects of a beneficiary’s life,” says Evelyn. “We want to accompany people on a ‘journey of change’ so that, with our help, they can improve the quality of their life in a number of areas.
“We are constantly looking at how we can improve and extend the services we offer, with a telephone befriending service just one of the things on our radar for the future.”