Suffering a stroke is life changing, but for people in Chesterfield a service set up by two dedicated women provides a safe, supportive environment tailored specifically to the needs of stroke survivors and their carers, the like of which is not found anywhere else in the country.
“We’ve had some fantastic results in the gym, a neurophysio comes in three times a week and works with service users. We’ve seen some people stand, walk and exercise after being told they’ll never walk again”
Specialist Stroke Services (SSS) is a registered charity set up by Julie Wheelhouse and Debbie Newton in 2001. Both were working in stroke care but realised different and longer term support was needed than was on offer.
I was invited along by Ian Gerrard and went along to see the facilities and meet some of the survivors and their carers at the Derbyshire Stroke Centre, at Holmewood Business Park. I was blown away by what they have achieved and the support they offer.
A stroke is momentary interruption in supply of blood to the brain in the form of a blood clot or a bleed, the worse case scenario is death. Should people survive the resulting damage to the brain can cause long term effects that vary dramatically from patient to patient.
Julie explained “We started up in 2001 in a room at the Victoria Club on Whittington Moor. Debbie and I had seen first hand the problems people were facing. In some cases people who could no longer work needed to fill out forms to access benefits, but the result of the stroke made that difficult. Many people struggle to make the necessary decisions and with language problems can’t just call someone up and ask for help. “Some survivors are impacted by aphasia, a condition that impairs language, affecting the ability to produce and understand speech, or the ability to read or write. You might know you want to say ‘the sofa is green’, but you can’t get the words out. And when you do get the words out, the words you’ve said aren’t right.
“It takes control away from the individual and causes many problems. This is exacerbated because the disability is not visible. If someone is sitting in a wheelchair or has physical signs then others know to make allowances and offer support, but that just isn’t the case with injuries and damage to the brain.”
“We have our own stroke nurse who is mindful of the problems stroke survivors face. If people have language or cognitive problems, how do you make an appointment with the doctor?” explains Julie. “If faced with a decision you might shy away from it, stroke sufferers need careful handling as tempers and feelings can flare and range dramatically. Our nurses know this and allow for it in the way they care.”
“Of course, the damage caused by a stroke can also be physical with loss of movement and difficulties operating limbs. The centre has a fully equipped gym where the equipment is power assisted, this enables operation of both limbs, the good side is exercised in the traditional way whilst the affected side is able to move in unison, aided by the machine, allowing for passive movements.
“We’ve had some fantastic results in the gym, a neurophysio comes in three times a week and works with service users. We’ve seen some people stand, walk and exercise after being told they’ll never walk again” Julie enthuses.
The centre offers holistic support focusing on mental wellbeing, alongside the physical symptoms of both the stroke survivor and their carers – including mood swings.
The service is clearly very important for the people who go. The support from the staff is fantastic and people love coming. There are no inhibitions and people can feel comfortable here, positivity is the buzzword … not everything can be fixed, but the centre gives people the space and time to try and most importantly, the support doesn’t come to an end.
The centre aims to help people always improve, for example, if they can’t speak and it won’t come back, there are ways the centre can help with confidence and finding other ways in which people can communicate.
Diane (top right), one of the service users at the centre was previously a farmer, and the centre have bought her a bee hive (which had to be positioned off site), which she now keeps and goes back to sell the resultant honey with funds to the centre.
They have a belly dancing class, visits from an aromatherapist, thai chi and Zumba classes, art therapy, something different happening most days – groups of classes for people who share many of the same difficulties.
The team are seeing new referrals every week and the need continues to expand.
The service initially started small with Julie and Debbie requesting a day a week release from their jobs to set up a service within a community room at North Wingfield. They expanded the service, eventually leaving their jobs to set up the Specialist Stroke Services as a charity, full-time, as the numbers kept growing.
Julie remembers. “In the early days we had to beg people to loan us rooms, meeting three or four days a week, before we secured a small lottery grant. We wanted to make the jump from a support service to a place with a permanent home.” explained Julie.
“We’ve had other grant funding and support from local organisations e.g. the Inner Wheel, Chesterfield Male Voice Choir, the Rotary. All donations are ploughed back into equipment etc.
In 2013, the service secured the offices at Holmewood Business Park. “Each day I’d drive past the offices thinking what a great location it would be. One office had remained empty since it was built so we spoke to Derbyshire County Council (DCC). They told us to put a business case together, so we did. We showed how, by creating the space, we could help reduce the costs of care, we could get people mobile, stop people falling, reduce depression amongst survivors, through these changes we could reduce the costs that the council have to bear for hospitals and other agencies.” “We were absolutely thrilled when DCC said yes! We signed a contract and moved into the building, a blank canvas on which to work.”
This was almost five years ago and the centre is now full of life and activity.
Some service users are entitled to a Direct Payment which is a source of funding that many survivors and carers are unaware of “Direct Payments became available in 2001 and it’s flexible so people can choose how they access care support. In some instances,this can be used to fund daycare services such as time at the centre. People can use this money to access our services, £35 will provide support for the day” says Julie.
What’s amazing about what they do is that it’s unique to us here in Chesterfield. Nothing like this exists elsewhere in the UK!
Ian Gerrard, Publicity secretary for the Chesterfield Male Voice Choir (CMVC) became involved after the CMVC staged a fund-raising concert for the centre as guests of the Whittington Moor Methodist Church. Mike Spriggs, Chairman of CMVC, and treasurer of the choir, Bill Snook, came and with Ian to present the cheque. “I was so impressed by what the centre was acheiving I had to volunteer my services to help out”.
You can see what goes on at Facebook: Specialist Stroke Services and keep an eye out for the Chesterfield Male Voice Choir – singing comes from the automatic speech part of the brain and often isn’t affected by aphasia so is a welcome relief to sufferers, Ian is working with Mike Spriggs to form a singing group for patients, so please support the choir by attending a concert if you can.