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‘We were made homeless during lockdown, but our support won’t stop’

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While trying to adapt to the many challenges of lockdown and ensure its support for people continued, Neuro Drop In was dealt the blow of having to move out of its premises. Founder Sharon Jackson explains how, despite the ongoing social restrictions, the Lancaster-based group have pulled even more tightly together to get through its unprecedented situation.

“Next year will mark the 21st anniversary of me being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). It was a massive shock as I had a career and a family, I wasn’t ready to be disabled. I’m 62 now and have learnt to deal with it while still being able to live my life, but I know what a devastating thing it is to be given this diagnosis and the impact it can have on you and your loved ones.

That was a big part of why, in 2011, I founded Neuro Drop In. I didn’t want it to just be for people who had MS, I believed that if someone had a brain-related condition or injury, then we’re all in it together. I wanted us all to be able to come together, there’s no point keeping us apart in separate groups, we can all help each other. It’s a group for people with neuro conditions, run by people with neuro conditions.

Our charity is for patients and their families, who come from right across the Lancaster and Morecambe area – the family part is very important, as I know first-hand the impact an injury or condition can have on those closest to you. We’ve established strong links with the NHS, who regularly direct people to us from GPs and the stroke wards at our local hospitals – we’ve worked hard to win their trust and have a close relationship now.

We’ve been in the same building since 2013, in Lancaster Farms, and we’ve held many fantastic sessions there over the years. We have everything from art therapy to exercise to music, and at one time we even operated our own catering company which provided food to visitors to the nearby prison. It was a fantastic opportunity for us, and particularly for our members, who were so invested in building our little not-for-profit operation and it gave all kinds of chances for people to get involved and build their skills and confidence. My strong belief is that there’s nothing I can’t do, and I’m always looking for new things to add to what we offer here at Neuro Drop In.

When lockdown came, that was undeniably a huge challenge, but staying true to our ‘can do’ attitude, we were determined we would continue in every way we could. Many of our groups, all run by volunteers, were taken online – we had a choir, a music quiz, chat cafe, mindfulness sessions, and a dance and exercise class, so our members had plenty of things to get involved in, if they wished.

During the period, our volunteers have also delivered over 600 wellbeing packs to our families’ homes – we provide the coffee or tea for a nice relaxing break, alongside something like a mindful colouring book to give a bit of stimulation and creativity, or sometimes an afternoon tea. People’s mental health is suffering in general, but for those with brain injuries and chronic conditions, that is so much worse, and for those who have to shield it can be a dreadful time. So we wanted to do all we could just to give a little boost.

We are building our virtual means even further and are just about to resume our neurophysiotherapy classes via a live Zoom session, as we see that as a really important way to engage people. That will definitely continue.

While restrictions have been lifted a little – although who knows what is to come next – we would have been looking forward to returning to Lancaster Farms to begin to start holding sessions, but sadly during lockdown, we lost our building. It was mooted earlier this year that the landlord might need the building back but at some point in the future, but when the pandemic hit and everyone’s plans went out of the window, we thought that may have too, or at least have been delayed. But instead, we were given 10 days’ notice to leave by the beginning of August.

We have no means of income as all of our events for the year have been cancelled, so we are in a difficult situation. We’re very resilient and every one of our members will have been through bigger challenges than this, but this was nevertheless very challenging. Our support for those who need it will always be the main thing, and we are determined we’ll continue to do that however we can. We have found a venue to hold coffee mornings in, which has been a real lifeline to some people who have had to shield and haven’t seen anyone socially for months, and that has been really important, but the search for a permanent home for Neuro Drop In continues.

We have found some small office space so we can at least get on with some of the logistics, and a local company has very kindly given us some of their storage space for free, as finding a place for all of our equipment without a base to move in to was a big difficulty we faced.

Our focus now is on adapting and changing, and keeping on looking to the future. Sadly, people will continue to be diagnosed with neurological conditions and sustain brain injuries, so there will always be a need for Neuro Drop In. We’ll keep on looking for a new building to call our home – but in the meanwhile, we’ll keep going and making sure we support those who need us in every way we can.”

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