Mike Kozam was a police officer for 30 years. When he retired in 2009, he became involved with the National Association of Retired Police Officers (NARPO). He was Chair of the Stafford and Stone sub-branch for 9 years and shares duties there as Welfare Officer, in which role he has supported a number of retired police officers and their spouses to go on MindforYou holidays. Mike is a great champion of life still being for living after a dementia diagnosis. We caught up with him and had a chat about his work and his links with MindforYou.

Can you tell us a bit about NARPO and why you got involved with it?

NARPO is an organisation that helps ex-police officers continue to flourish after they’ve left the Police and campaigns for members on matters such as pensions and wellbeing needs. Leaving or retiring from the Police can feel like a real loss as there’s so much camaraderie between colleagues who, in many cases, have spent significant time together, sometimes working on really difficult or complex cases. NARPO recognises that retirement is a time of special significance for retirees and their families and is there to offer support in whatever form it’s needed.

What attracted you to the role of Welfare Officer?

Having been a police officer myself for 30 years, I knew I was in a good position to help. A large part of the job involved talking to people to find out what was going on, making sure they were ok, and helping them where needed. Working with NARPO is similar in that sense and it’s that everyday but very meaningful ability to help that really interests me. If I help to secure a couple the right funding for their MindforYou holiday, for example, then that’s time well-spent because I know I’ve helped them improve the quality of their lives.

What does your work with NARPO involve?

As past Chair of the Stafford and Stone sub-branch, I helped to organise social events such as the celebrations we put on earlier this year to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and our annual New Year Reunion get-together of members. I also oversaw the running of the sub-branch, liaised with committee members and helped ensure everyone had what they needed for the sub-branch to run smoothly. As joint Welfare Officer I help members with welfare issues, including health concerns, and give them moral support where it’s needed. We offer a lot of practical, hands-on help, such as transportation for hospital visits and, of course, helping members with applications for funding towards their MindforYou holidays.

How did you first hear about MindforYou?

I first heard about MindforYou five years ago through an organisation called Police Mutual, which provides financial services for people who are, or who have previously been, associated with the Police. They also have a charitable foundation under their umbrella and I was interested in that. A colleague from another sub-branch mentioned how straightforward it had been for him to go through the application process to get funding from the charity to pay for a MindforYou holiday for one of his NARPO members. I thought that sounded really positive for everyone involved. I wanted to find out more as I could already see what a huge benefit this could be for my members.

How much of an issue is dementia for retired police officers and their families?

Well, NARPO represent more than 90,000 retired police officers. The number of people in the UK with dementia is increasing and, it’s mainly in the age group of NARPO members, so it makes sense that this is an issue we should be looking at and doing whatever we can to understand it and offer as much support as possible.

How much involvement have you had with MindforYou and NARPO members holidaying with them?

I’ve helped members and their spouses through the application process to get their MindforYou holiday fully or part-funded. We go through it all together, from start to finish, and make sure that everything is covered. I keep in regular contact with them to keep them up to date. In partnership with MindforYou, we make sure that every detail is considered. For example, there have been a couple of occasions where members no longer drive and, because of the dementia, public transport isn’t really an option. In those cases, we make sure suitable transportation is arranged and, on a couple of occasions, I’ve driven them to the holiday destination myself. This has helped in a practical way because they have needed transportation but it’s also another way of supporting them through the whole process just by being there. It’s very rewarding and it’s good to know the same support is offered from NARPO branches across the UK.

What benefits have you seen for NARPO members who have been on MindforYou holidays?

In my experience, they give both the person with dementia and their carer (who is often their partner) much needed time away in an environment where everyone understands the challenges they face. This means they can relax without having to worry about how people might react in unpredictable situations and where they don’t have to explain anything. It’s invaluable respite for the carer, too. The people I’ve supported to go on MindforYou holidays have come back visibly more relaxed and with a weight lifted off them because they’ve been able to go on holiday without having to think about dementia the whole time.

The feedback I’ve had is that the enthusiasm and care of the staff is first class, there are all sorts of enjoyable activities and excursions, and that every little detail is taken care of. MindforYou take the trouble to find out a lot about the individuals before they go away, so the holidays are really tailored to those particular people, which makes a massive difference to the overall experience. Everyone I know who has been away with MindforYou says how fantastic the cooking is as well!

Having seen the hugely positive effects of MindforYou holidays on my NARPO members first-hand, I want to continue to do all I can to help more members take a break with them and experience the benefits. I think the fact the first thing people often say when they get back from a MindforYou holiday is that they want to go on another one says it all, really.

What would you say to NARPO members thinking of booking a MindforYou holiday but who haven’t taken the plunge yet?

Just go for it. MindforYou staff are experienced, professional and caring and we stand alongside them to support you through every step of the process. There is no need to feel any kind of stigma around living with dementia or that needing help is a sign of weakness. Dementia is, sadly, an increasingly common condition and everyone deserves support around the various challenges of living with it. Police officers have spent much of their working lives helping other people through incredibly challenging situations. Accepting support to go on a break that will enhance your quality of life and make happy memories for you and you partner is a wise choice and something you deserve. Everyone I’ve supported to go on a MindforYou holiday comes back saying they wish they’d done it earlier and they can’t wait for the opportunity to go again. I think that speaks for itself.

Have you ever thought of Donating to MindforYou because Donations Really Matter!

We passionately believe that everyone has the right to have a fabulous holiday and making a donation can make that happen for someone who may really need it!

Our holidays will allow our guests to rediscover their independence, make memories and make life easier by fighting social isolation.

With your kind donation you can help people with Dementia, from all backgrounds, to access a holiday.

By making a donation today, we can use that kindness to help out someone who really needs a holiday who might otherwise not be able to afford it.

Thank you so much for reading this and considering donating to our specialist Dementia Holiday Charity.