TWO community grants helped Swindon Therapy Centre support hundreds of isolated members unable to obtain treatment during lockdown.
The centre, in Westmead Drive, is only just re-opening its doors for oxygen therapy and physiotherapy to members suffering from Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s and other neurological conditions.
Chairman of trustees Tim Culling said two grants from the Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response Fund had been invaluable in keeping its operation going.
The centre has been awarded grants totalling £4,250 from the fund, which has raised more than £1 million and already distributed almost £700,000 to more than 170 groups across the county.
Mr Culling said: “We are so grateful for the grants - they have been a godsend. At the start of lockdown, we had to close our doors. What effectively we were saying to people with MS and Parkinson’s and other illnesses was, 'Sorry, you are on your own now’.
“People with long-term neuro conditions are used to being isolated at the best of times because often their physical condition is so impaired, they find it difficult to get out and about, but this kind of isolation bought all sorts of other challenges.”
The 37-year-old charity relies on donations and fundraising, as well as a network of volunteers, to pay for its staff and the running costs of its two oxygen chambers, anti-gravity treadmills and specially-adapted gym.
Between March and May of last year it raised just over £54,000 but over the same period this year managed only about £15,000.
The first Coronavirus Response Fund grant, of £2,500, allowed the centre to take its two member support workers out of furlough.
Mr Culling said: “They usually provide physical and emotional support to people when they are in the centre. They have been systematically contacting everyone on our books.
"It meant that people who had been isolated and worried were contacted and reassured.”
He said 17 percent of people with MS ended up in hospital once a year with urinary tract or respiratory tract infection or they suffer mental health problems, and added: “But among our membership of up to 200 people that figure is no more than two per cent because the therapies, treatments and social interactions we provide helped to prevent those three conditions.
“What we’ve found is that most of the members who have the ability to grin and bear the condition and live with it, still have it. But for a minority we are detecting a deterioration in their mental wellbeing and that will grow over time the longer it goes on.”
The second grant, of £1,750, will help the charity to continue providing wellbeing support to members who are staying at home. They will receive advice and support, and be signposted to useful resources.
The centre, which usually delivers about 24,000 treatments a year, has begun a gradual re-opening with extended opening hours so that people can receive treatments but maintain isolation.
“The challenge is the longer hours we will have to operate will have an impact on costs and demands on volunteers,” said Mr Culling.
One thing still absent is one of the most important benefits of the centre.
Mr Culling said: “The therapy that gets the most used, and probably is of the most benefit, is the coffee area where members can chat to one another.
“When they are sitting there chatting, they are not feeling judged and they are not necessarily talking about their condition, whereas when they talk to their GP or their family that’s the first thing that gets mentioned.
“That’s what people have been missing the most, which is why the phone calls have been so important.
"We’ve also introduced virtual coffee mornings via Zoom, and we have had volunteers giving a virtual tour of their gardens.”
Fiona Oliver, the community foundation’s interim co-chief executive, said: “This amazing centre knows exactly what its members need and has shown huge adaptability in the way it has changed to meet those needs.
"We are really pleased to fund this vital work, which has such a benefit to so many people.”
The centre's website is msswindon.org.uk
To donate to the Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Fund or to find out how to apply for a grant, visit wiltshirecf.org.uk