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Third birthday celebration for Spalding's Happy Breathers

Being diagnosed with a chronic illness can be more difficult than just dealing with the physical symptoms.

Many people living with long-term conditions can also suffer a number of other difficulties which adversely affect their mental wellbeing - which can result in their physical health deteriorating further.

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is the collective name given to a group of lung conditions, including chronic bronchitis and emphysema, which can make breathing difficult.

Happy Breathers members (26392168)
Happy Breathers members (26392168)

It affects around 1.2million people in the UK – two per cent of the population – and it's a progressive condition, meaning there’s no cure.

The Happy Breathers COPD group, facilitated by Lincolnshire Community and Voluntary Service (LCVS) employee Suzanne Willis, is a lifeline for people who have been diagnosed with COPD or other breathing-related illnesses.

Recently it has celebrated its third birthday, with members tucking into a cake to mark the occasion.

The third birthday cake (26392170)
The third birthday cake (26392170)

Held twice a month at the IVO Day Care Centre in Albion Street, Spalding, the group brings together people living with the condition and their family and friends in an informal and social setting.

LCVS link worker Suzanne Willis said: “Some people with COPD can become isolated by their illness.

“The symptoms of the disease, such as breathlessness, can make the thought of leaving the house and getting involved in any other kind of group activity quite daunting and off limits.

“This can mean they choose to stay at home, which in turn can lead to them becoming cut off from any kind of social interaction, which can lead to depression.”

The group started around three years ago as part of a health-related academic study and back then was a weekly event focused on providing members with care and support in a non-clinical community setting.

Meetings were often attended by the community respiratory nurses, who were able to offer advice on how to manage symptoms.

Unfortunately, the group lost its funding and would have ceased to exist if it wasn’t for the dedication shown by Suzanne and her team of volunteers, who were determined to keep it going – even without financial support.

Meetings dropped to once a month, but Suzanne gave her time for free and enlisted the help of other volunteers to ensure members still enjoyed a range of activities such as crafting and exercise.

Recently, Suzanne has secured a small amount of funding to secure the group’s immediate futureand meetings are now held on the last two Thursdays of every month and guests are asked to make a small donation of £2 if they can afford it to help with the running costs.

Throughout it all, Happy Breathers has maintained a core of around 15 to 20 members – many of whom helped the group celebrate its third birthday.

Suzanne said: “It was lovely to be able to mark the group’s anniversary with some of those who were here right at the very beginning and those who have joined us along the way.

“I am so glad we were able to keep the group going as it is such a lovely, friendly group and a great benefit to those who attend.”

One attendee, Paul, was referred to the group by the nurse at his GP surgery about two-and-a-half years ago and has been attending regularly ever since.

He said: “The group is good because it gives us a chance to try a variety of things.

“Meetings usually include some form of exercise, which is always good, and often there is an interesting talk.

“Most importantly for me, it is a chance to get out of the house and meet other people. It gives my wife the chance to vacuum!”

The social aspect is also a big part of the reason that Carol, Kathy, Jean, Chris and Ivy attend. They have become good friends after meeting at Happy Breathers.

Ivy said: “We are the naughty table and there is always lots of fun and laughter.

“Happy Breathers has been great at bringing us together and we enjoy the interesting talks we have as well as the craft sessions and the exercise, particularly when it’s being led by Suzanne.”

Suzanne recently completed her training to enable her to lead the mostly-seated exercise sessions, but she’s not always in the hot seat.

Members also enjoy regular tai chi sessions, where they are led through a series of gentle exercises which help improve their posture, balance and breathing.

Other activities include all sorts of crafting and making, such as card designing, with volunteer Mags.

The team is completed by 85-year-old Sheila, who helps out with the coffee and tea making, as well as nurse Pat, who can offer advice on living with COPD.

Suzanne said: “We try to provide a few things at each session for people to have a go at if they want but there is never any pressure to do anything. You can just sit and chat and have a coffee and biscuit.

“We just want people to come along and have fun, relax and meet other people who understand what they are experiencing because of their illness.

“Some people are referred to us by their GP or nurse but you don’t have to be. Happy Breathers is open to anyone. Just email me or call me to find out when the next meeting is or just come along.”

Suzanne can be contacted on 07508 950367 or by emailing suzannewillis@lincolnshirecvs.org.uk

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