Life is often about chance meetings and encounters that enrich our lives and educate us about work that supports individuals and their mental health. One of these meetings took place this week as our director Sarah Roads met with Debbie Sutton of the RFA. This meeting came about through one of those chance incidents when Debbie read an article about Sarah Roads in Southsea Lifestyle magazine. Sarah sat down with Debbie to hear about the work of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and Aggie Weston’s.

Royal Fleet Auxiliary

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary also known as the RFA was formed in 1905. Their role is to serve and support the Royal Navy through civilian crewed ships operated by the MOD. The RFA provides vital support to the Navy through the transportation of kit, fuel and medical supplies. In addition to ensuring the Royal Navy have everything they need; they have also been involved in counter piracy patrols and assisted the Navy in its goal to prevent conflict and facilitate international trade. The members of the RFA inevitably become caught up in high-level incidents such as conflict and humanitarian crises. This will take an emotional and mental toll.

Aggie Weston

The need to support serving members of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary as well as the Navy and Marines was identified many years ago by Dame Agnes Weston more famously known as Aggie Weston.
Born in March 1840 in London, Agnes Weston’s early life was privileged but she found her calling through her desire to support sailors. Concerned about levels of drinking, a lack of places to go when not at sea and the temptations that confronted sailors, she established Temperance Societies on ships and Sailors Rests that were intended as a haven to draw serving men away from the pubs and debauchery in and around dockyard’s. She also worked out a system to get the sailors pay straight to their families and a savings bank to encourage sailors to look after the money. She was recognised for her incredible work shortly before her death when she was appointed Dame Grand Cross of the order of the British Empire, and she was the first woman to be given a full naval ceremonial funeral.

Aggies Portsmouth

Aggie Weston’s which is the association that took her name has been providing pastoral care to serving members of the forces who not only have to face potentially difficult situations on duty, but they also do this separated from their families. The isolation and loneliness are not only confined to the individual serving, of course the families can also suffer. Aggies was formed through a desire to support the entire community and to ensure there was a place to go for anyone struggling with their mental health. Over coffee with Debbie, Sarah heard about the support that is provided locally Aggie’s place in Portsmouth.

It was a privilege to hear about the activities and endeavours such as Storybook Waves that Aggies facilitate for serving families. Aggies knows that bedtime stories are part of the bond between a child and parent so started Storybook Waves so that serving members of the Navy, Marines and RFA can record a story that the child can listen to whenever they want. It’s an incredible idea that helps to strengthen the link between parent and child when they are separated.

Sarah was inspired by the important work of the RFA and Aggie Weston’s supporting the mental health of serving forces and their families. It is important to build a community that understands the emotional challenges serving individuals face whilst in the forces and fits with the ethos of SLR to be a part of a positive experience for them as they begin civilian life.