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My support group is turning 21!

Breathe Easy Isle of Wight​ began 21 years ago. Andy Savage shares how the group have adapted during lockdown and their plans for the future.

Breathe Easy Isle of Wight launched 21 years ago on 1 June 1999. The group’s been a family affair for me, and has involved both of my parents  over the years. My late father Cyril joined the Breathe Easy group in the year 2001 following a diagnosis of pulmonary fibrosis, a progressive condition that causes scarring of the lungs. At that time, it was a rare condition and very little was known about it.

He took on the role of treasurer of the group until the middle of 2003 when his condition worsened and he sadly passed away on 6 September 2003. My mother, Pam, carried on her support for the group by providing refreshments at the monthly meetings and still continues to provide them to this day.

I agreed to become treasurer in 2004 and have continued that role to this day. I took BLF Active courses in 2010 and since then have built up a network of exercise classes with the launch of the Keep Active programme. It has been great to be able to have weekly exercise classes that work alongside pulmonary rehabilitation where people can join and be encouraged to stay active. We also have the support of the staff of the respiratory department, who actively encourage their patients to become a part of the Breathe Easy and Keep Active groups.

Each year we hold a variety of coffee mornings, outings, fundraising events and quizzes. We are a very social group and love meeting up for a chat.  Though clearly, the pandemic has made this a challenge.

Lockdown has changed how we connect

Since lockdown, we have kept in contact with all our members as much as possible. It’s been especially important to stay in contact with people who are on their own and are shielding.

We launched a weekly e-newsletter with a mix of exercise and relaxation tips, plenty of puzzles, quizzes, cartoons and jokes. Plus some trips down memory lane with lots of photos from our past events. The e-newsletter ran throughout lockdown, from March through to the end of July, with just over 100 recipients signed up to receive it. This was possible due to the hard work of committee member Kev Froment, who changed his bi-monthly newsletter into a weekly newsletter for everyone to enjoy.

We also held a Lockdown Step-A-Thon challenge  via the newsletter. Each week we encouraged people to send in their step count and I totalled up how far we had cumulatively walked that week. People were clocking up steps either at home, in their gardens, or on short walks if they weren’t required to shield. In the 20 weeks of lockdown we managed to  reach a grand total of just over 5 million steps! This is the equivalent of 2,474 Miles, or walking from Newport on the Isle of Wight across the Atlantic to Goose Bay, Newfoundland, Canada.

We’re still continuing our email newsletter and have recently launched a new Walkabout challenge. The aim is to walk virtually around the World eastwards, from the Isle of Wight towards New Zealand.

The e-newsletter and emails, plus phone and text messages and our Facebook page IOW Breathe Easy all help us to stay connected whilst we are unable to meet, which is very important for all our members.

Our 21st Birthday Celebration

Lockdown has shown us the true value support groups and exercise groups provide to those living with a lung condition. Everyone has missed the weekly and monthly get togethers, so this is something we hope to be able to rectify in the coming months.

Once it's safe to do so then we plan to re-launch the group and to get our classes back up and running again, all with social distancing rules in place. We had big plans to celebrate our 21st birthday this summer, but we have decided to postpone and celebrate next Summer, albeit a year late.

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19 March 2021