The start of 2020 has seen some monumental changes in the way we all live, work and play and this has affected the way that everybody accesses the support and help they need to manage and maintain their health.
The members of The Brightwell are no different. The charity, based in Bradley Stoke, specialises in providing therapies and support to people living with neurological conditions, such as multiple sclerosis (MS) and fibromyalgia. When the lockdown was implemented, many of the centre’s users were classed as vulnerable and therefore began to ‘shield’. The Brightwell had to close, cutting off the vital support so many of the members relied upon.
For centre members, The Brightwell is a life-line, not just for the therapies that but for the support, the company and the friendships. Closing the doors of The Brightwell was as Doro Pasantes, centre manager, commented “…the saddest day in our history”.
Most of us have now experienced how challenging social isolation can be; not being able to see friends and family coupled with confinement within your own four walls. Sadly, for a person living with a chronic condition, this is often the everyday reality. Adding in a pandemic has magnified those feelings of loneliness, frustration and anxiety. The priority of the Brightwell team was to work out how they could best continue to support the members through the trying times ahead.
The website (thebrightwell.org.uk) and social media channels quickly became the hub of this support, on Facebook weekly physical challenges were set to keep members active, Zoom was used to provide online exercise classes while fun games, quizzes, competitions and even a virtual pet parade were hosted to encourage everyone to stay in touch.
Centre member Clare Summerill describes the support she received:
“The fear of Coronavirus alone is bad enough; the uncertainty of catching it and falling very ill (or worse) or just the fear of transmitting it to someone else. But the addition of living with MS and being on immunosuppressants, well, that adds another dimension of concern – and that alone hasn’t been the only problem. Not being able to access ‘normal’ support has been challenging too. Both in terms of accessing the oxygen therapy and physiotherapy, but also being able to chat to my friends over a cup of tea about fears and concerns. Having online support during this time has been invaluable. The activity videos, the encouragement, sharing pet photos, the jokes…; they have all been fantastic.”
Equally the team were aware that not everyone would have access to the internet, so, they set about making weekly phone calls, to a membership of just over 300 people. Sometimes the call was simply to keep in touch and other times to direct people to the help they needed.
Throughout the lock-down the centre team and trustees continued to work on making sure that as soon as it was possible the members were provided with the safest route possible to return.
In 1985, The Brightwell (then The West of England MS Therapy Centre) began helping people from a trading estate in Nailsea. At the beginning they only provided oxygen therapy and now, in this new beginning, during their 35th anniversary year, it will be a similarly stripped-down affair but just as they did, way back then, The Brightwell is committed to building up to the full range of therapies once more.
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