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‘It’s been like a warm embrace!’

Updated: May 7

Shirley and Saran smiling on the ferry to the UK
Shirley and Saran - happy to be on the ferry, UK bound

‘I can’t put into words how grateful we are that Age in Spain and the RAF Benevolent Fund have been involved with us. Mum has had a level of protection that has been amazing. It is like a warm embrace that all of us – my sister and I too – have felt the benefit of.’

Saran Cleary is full of praise for those who have helped her mother through some very difficult times.

Saran’s mum, Shirley, was married to John Taylor – a craftsman in the RAF, who served for a time in Germany. The marriage didn’t last, but the support of the RAF Benevolent fund did, and has been vital to her in recent years.

Shirley moved to Fuengirola in Spain when enticed by a friend to leave her low paid work in the mills and go to Spain for a better life. In some ways, says Saran, the life wasn’t better – as a single mum with two daughters to bring up, Shirley always struggled to make ends meet. Although skilled at her work in the mills, these weren’t skills that transferred to her new life in Spain where she got a job as a cook and worked in bar kitchens. But Shirley loved the Spanish way of life and stayed for the next 45 years, with Saran and her sister Carla growing up there. Both girls returned to the UK, though Carla is now living in Spain again.

Says Saran, ‘Life looks very different in Spain when you are poor. We had a hand-to-mouth existence. I left to try to find better opportunities for myself.’

Shirley in her wheelchair getting reasy to leave home
Getting out and about was becoming a challenge

Living in Spain in the rented sector, Shirley always found her financial situation precarious and as she grew older, and less mobile, and therefore not able to work, she struggled to pay her rent. Her housing situation was also difficult, says Saran. She was living in a third-floor apartment in a town house. ‘The building had a lift, but it didn’t always work and wouldn’t take mum’s wheelchair. We had to somehow get her into the lift and onto a chair. When the lift would break down, mum was literally trapped in her apartment.’

Norman Jolliffe, Age Concern volunteer and friend, relaxing
Norman Jolliffe, Age Concern volunteer and friend

Shirley was in receipt of her UK state pension but didn’t receive any other benefits.

Fortunately, she had made a friend in Norman Jolliffe who ran a local bar and was also a member of Age Concern. Norman would drop in on her with his Age Concern hat on, delivering the day-to-day practical support that is the hallmark of Age Concern.

But Norman was also a volunteer with Age in Spain and set about accessing additional support for Shirley. Through our partnership with the military charities, he was able to get her a mobility scooter and a hardship grant from the RAF Benevolent Fund, and this helped considerably for a time. Norman Jolliffe, Age Concern volunteer and friend

Says Saran, ‘Norman was more than a caseworker, he was a friend. And went above and beyond to help her in practical terms. Mum wasn’t aware which agencies were helping her, she just knew that Norman was her lifeline.’

Shirley in a whellchair outside her Fuengirola apartment
Shirley outside her apartment in Fuengirola

It became clear this year that staying in Spain wasn’t really an option for Shirley. Despite the support provided by Carla who lived nearby and was effectively her carer for sixteen years, Shirley’s deteriorating health was a problem - she suffers from heart failure - and she made the decision that she should return to the UK.

‘We know the welfare system in the UK, but even having lived in Spain we were not sure how to go about getting her home. Some of the support that mum would get in the UK just doesn’t exist in Spain where the family set-up is stronger and older people are often looked after by their families.

‘Kayte from Age in Spain was able to access a repatriation grant, normally available to assist people whose circumstances have changed and they need to get back to the UK.

‘Mum’s situation was difficult because her health needs meant that she couldn’t fly back but

had to be assisted to make the journey by road and ferry. Mum had no money – in fact she had debts.

‘With Kayte’s guidance and the repatriation grant, mum made the journey to the UK. She is currently in hospital in Wiltshire, and, now 90, is likely to need residential care for the rest of her life.’

A portrait of Carla, Shirley and Saran, smiling for the camera
Carla, Shirley and Saran , together for the journey home

But the story doesn’t end there. Age in Spain has contacted RAFA (Royal Air Forces Association) who have been in touch and have said they can become more involved when Shirley leaves hospital, potentially with some top-up finance. We wish Shirley well.

Thank you to Shirley Saran and Carla for sharing your story.


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