A Wirral support group for people living with osteoporosis turned an incredible 30 years old this month – and three of its volunteers have an extra reason to celebrate having been involved from the start.
The volunteer-run support group is part of the national charity, the Royal Osteoporosis Society (ROS), and offers people in Wirral and surrounding areas affected with the chronic health condition, a chance to meet others similarly affected and to get information about how to live well.
The Royal Osteoporosis Society is the UK’s only national charity dedicated to bone health and osteoporosis.
Alison Williams, Eileen Spark and Barbara Woods have all been involved with the support group, which began when two of them were working as nurses at Arrowe Park hospital in Birkenhead, from the beginning.
“In the early days, the emphasis was on monthly meetings and a desperate scramble to find a large enough meeting room, but after two- or three-years monthly numbers were dwindling,” said Alison. “We realised that what our members really wanted wasn’t monthly meetings, but more specialist talks and a chance to hear from healthcare professionals. They wanted to ask them questions as you rarely get much time when you have an appointment and often think of questions afterwards.”
The group now meets in person twice a year (in more usual times) to hear talks from a Consultant Rheumatologist, with a popular question and answer session afterwards. It’s well attended by people living with osteoporosis and the loved ones who support them.
As well as supporting each other, the group has also played a role in helping to educate the local community about the importance of bone health over the last 30 years – even providing skipping ropes to local schools to help the pupils benefit from the weight-bearing exercise.
“As well as the skipping rope scheme, which might seem rather old fashioned by today’s standards, we have also provided practical support by funding two nurse study days to help them learn more about the condition,” Alison continued.
COVID-19 has been a real challenge to the group as lockdown and safety concerns have necessitated the need to move their meetings online.
“I have to say, considering how unsavvy I and many of us were with technology, we have embraced the change really well and it was made much easier with help from the ROS,” said Alison.
Although the number of members in the group have changed over the years, the three dedicated volunteers who were there at the beginning have been a constant.
“To have one volunteer who has been with the group from the start would have been wonderful, but to have three with a total of 90 years’ service between them is just exceptional,” ROS Volunteer Engagement Co-ordinator, Fiona Cooper, said.
“Barbara and Eileen have now decided to step down from the group to take a well-earned retirement, but we are extremely lucky to still have Alison staying on in a key role as Treasurer.”
Eileen, from Gayton was presented with Duchess of Cornwall Roses at their annual garden party event at Saugall, Chester on 28 July 2021. Barbara Barbara, from Irby was sadly unable to attend so her flowers were sent on to her. Both women have previously been honoured with a personal letter from ROS President, Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall too.
The letter carried this message to the long-standing volunteers: “I am aware of how much you and your fellow volunteers on the committee, have done over the years to support local people living with this devastating disease. You have been a lifeline for so many of them from the first diagnosis onwards, offering comfort, advice and friendship.”
As part of the celebrations, group members also enjoyed a fashion show to give them ideas about how to dress with osteoporosis – a common concern of those living with osteoporosis as the spine can become curved.
Alison said, “Living with osteoporosis can be difficult because as much information as there is, there is often a sense of isolation and it can be really hard.”
The Wirral support group is looking for new volunteer members with the skills, dedication, and commitment to join its committee and help it flourish. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org