Whilst Valentine’s Day is generally accepted as a ‘couples day’, others have embraced it as an opportunity to celebrate friendships or love for their children, or even do random acts of kindness for strangers.

For those who have experienced the death of a spouse or partner, it can be a cruel reminder of what is missing – a soul-mate, a friend and companion – who may have been around for many years and bought many valentines cards and gifts.

Kathy Mears and Ray Browning felt this sense of loss and grief when their spouses were both taken by illness – having been married for over 50 years. Kathy (82) said she was ‘happy but not very social and outgoing’, whereas Ray (86) cannot do a quick shop as so many people who know him want to stop to ‘chew the fat’.

Award winning charity, CTLA Community Transport, exists to reduce isolation and loneliness and improve health and well-being – with their travel club bringing together people of all ages, especially those who may be alone, for friendship and social inclusion.

Three years ago, encouraged by friends, Kathy signed up for free membership and the door-to-door accessible minibus soon became a familiar sight in her street in Peacehaven.

She remembers the first time Ray caught her eye, on a trip to a local pub for an organ recital and a meal – they exchanged a few pleasantries and she recalls getting back onto the minibus in the twilight, with Ray cheekily saying to her “hey, you look better in the dark!”.

Kathy looked out for Ray on the trips from then onwards, and noticing her growing feelings for him, her friend June encouraged her to give Ray her telephone number. Kathy says she told June that the old-fashioned way was for the ‘gentleman to ask the lady’. June obviously pooh-poohed that idea as she wrote down Kathy’s number and instructed Ray to ‘give her a ring sometime’.

The rest, as they say, is history. Kathy, Ray and their friends still go out on CTLA Travel Club trips and Ray has bought Kathy a beautiful eternity ring. They spent last Christmas together and enjoy nothing better than curling up on the sofa together to do the crosswords.

Kathy has advice for anyone who may find themselves alone, as she did. “Don’t sit indoors looking at the walls – it’s the worst thing you can do. Before the Travel Club and meeting Ray, I would sit and think more about my problems – since we’ve been together – and I go out around twice a week with CTLA – my mental health and wellbeing is much improved – and my social life has never been busier!”

For more details on the CTLA Travel Club, go to www.ctla.org.uk or call 01273 517332

kathy mears

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