The MS Society Preston Group: "We're here to make sure no one has to face Multiple Sclerosis alone"
Covering an area from Garstang to Bamber Bridge and entirely run by volunteers, the MS Society Preston Group is one of those services which relatively few people will know about but which is truly life-changing for those who do rely on it.
A support service for those diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis as well as their families and friends, the group allows individuals to connect with others in a similar position so they can share their experiences in a safe and welcoming environment. Fundamentally, the group ensuress no one has to face MS on their own.
There are over 130,000 people with MS in the UK alone with 7,000 people diagnosed with the condition each year. A vital beacon of support, information, and friendship at a tumultuous time in people’s lives, the group runs social groups, exercise classes, one-to-one therapy, physiotherapy, podiatry, and offers all-round general assistance to those who need it.
“After I was medically retired from work, I thought about joining the group to keep my mind active for a long time,” says Lynne Gibson, who was diagnosed with MS 12 years ago.
“Obviously you want to help people who are struggling as well, particularly newly-diagnosed people, who we seem to get a lot of alongside those in the final stages. They’re the ones who really need us the most.
“Having MS is a massive thing to come to terms with psychologically and being able to offer empathy is invaluable, especially because the symptoms are so varied,” adds Lynne, 52, the group’s administration volunteer. “An able-bodied person has no idea what things like our fatigue is like. But we do. That makes a big difference; people open up a little more.
“Some people don’t want to think about MS, others want to absorb as much info as they can: we’re here to be flexible and to listen,” says Lynne, who’s been involved with the group for three-and-a-half years. “That moral and emotional support is so crucial for people and being involved is so fulfilling. Personally, I definitely get a lot from volunteering.
“When you help someone, you smile to yourself knowing you’ve done something useful.”
Fundamentally, the MS Society Preston Group is there to provide friendship and practical help. During the pandemic, however, their in-person meetings were impacted by lockdown restrictions, forcing them online, so they offered a group phone line for people to call should they require support and even held ring-arounds to check in on members.
“It was tough because we have quite a few members from an older age bracket who struggled technologically,” says Lynne, with the group holding twice-monthly Google Meets and virtual coffee mornings. “But we did the best we could. We were there if people needed us and, while we were limited, we were a listening ear.
“We also helped signpost people to things like food banks and other organisations and, as soon as we were given the all-clear, we re-opened the exercise classes and have just restarted the social face-to-face meetings,” she adds, with the group having returned to in-person gatherings recently. “We had 12 members turn up to the last one, which is good.”
Over the past month or so, members have been able to meet up for a drink and a meal at the Owd Nells and the Ribble Pilot, while the group has also restarted its Pilates classes as well as their home physiotherapy and podiatry services, which members have ‘sorely missed’ according to Coordinator Michael Matulewicz.
Slowly but surely, things are getting back to normal.
“That human contact is crucial and people were so pleased to be back,” says Lynne. “I think we’ve all been ready to come back out into the world and not hide behind our front doors any longer.”
The MS Society Preston Group is always looking for volunteers so, if you are interested, please reach out via email at [email protected] or via phone by calling 0300 323 9979