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A personal account of The Fire Fighters Charity at Penrith

I was involved in an accident which caused my injuries.  The diagnosis was most probably internal bruising, but as the injury worsened over the months it was suggested that I go for physiotherapy.  Over the coming months and years I visited several different physios and each attempted to put me right. This led to further physio sessions, twice a week for a long period of time, these sessions worked, only to reveal hidden injures, more physio session did not alleviate this symptom. The only option left was an operation. Alas this was not as successful as hoped, more sessions of prevailed with limited success followed by continual, flare ups, breakdowns.  All of this caused severe pain even through the multitude of painkillers prescribed by the GP.

Blah, blah, blah, yes I know a brief history taking forever to explain.  But it is important to understand the complex nature of my injuries combined with time and chronic pain.  Walking around like a zombie high on Tramadol and similar medicines was not my idea of treatment.  Unfortunately the sixty plus sessions of physio, by therapists, who are held in high regard within their profession, did not entirely raise my spirits either.

After some seven months post-surgery I was still unfit for duty when the POAS contacted me with the offer of going to the Fire Fighters Charity run therapy centre in Penrith.   As one does I typed it into Google and found their website.  I also contacted several friends who are fire fighters but no-one knew anyone who had been there.  By now quiet alarm bells were sounding, pardon the pun, new physios, new exercises, new pain……………..  Nevertheless I had to try something new before the capability process picked up speed, I am now nine months into being unfit for duty.  As I could not drive the only option was the train, cheap at £26.70 for an of peak return. 

Sunday the 30th of January and I am boarding the train to Manchester, which stops at Penrith, a mere one hour forty five minutes later and a quick taxi ride to the centre.  The taxi driver tells me that he’s heard good stuff about this place and not only about the food.  First impressions are critical and it does not disappoint.  Secure door entry and an open plan vestibule/reception and I am welcomed by a smile, the first but not the last, a warm welcome and I’m off to my room, via the elevator, on the second floor.  The room is more than adequate for one person complete with ensuite and TV.  I was lucky to have a view of the river Eamont.  After a quick unpack and completion of the necessary paperwork and I headed for the lounge.  It has to be said that everyone I encountered had a smile and quick hello for me, quite disconcerting as I had only arrived and knew no-one else.  This welcoming trait was to continue for the rest of my stay.  At this point it is important to understand that it is not only serving fire fighters who come here, retired fire fighters, partners and their children can come for therapy if their application is successful.

One of the assistant therapists held a quick icebreaker for the newbie’s, which again helped to bring everyone together.  Following a lovely meal I ventured to explore the rest of the centre.  Monday morning brought the usual health and safety talks and introduction to our respective groups.  A timetable from reception helped to keep everyone on track, to the giggles of those who recalled their first year at secondary school.  I must be honest at first look at the timetable for Chris’ group, Chris would be the physio looking after me and ten other people, and I was sceptical already, classroom therapy sessions, the blight of the warder.  However I lucky enough to talk to a fire fighter who had already been here a few years ago and he convinced me to go in with an open mind.  Go I did, and glad I was, very quickly you realise that you are not the only one going through a life changing event.  Some of these session were light hearted, some informative and some very thought provoking.  By Monday evening Chris had made an exercise regime for me and had gone over it in a one to one basis.  Included in the timetable were outdoor sessions, walks around the grounds for the less mobile and for the remainder walks of one to four miles at a leisurely pace, although if someone has to turn back early one of the therapy assistants will accompany them. 

By Monday night you could feel the social barriers being taken apart and group dynamics forming.  You are encouraged to take full use of the bar, but within reason, Andy the centre manager states.  Apparently some people got carried away last week, thankfully not the warders.  There are three prison officers attending, including myself, and we are blown away by the facilities provided by the Fire Fighters Charity.

The biophysiosocial model used here is excellent at bringing people forward and facing the challenges that they face or have refused to face so far, thus the availability of psychological therapists on site for group or one to one sessions.  The groups make full use of the hydrotherapy pool, large pool, Jacuzzi, sauna, fitness suite and gymnasium.  Chris makes hard work in the pool seem like fun and the hour session is up before you know it, likewise in the gym where the physio exercises take place after the warm up in the gym or hydro pool for the less mobile of us.  There is no shortage of equipment or encouragement from the therapists or clients especially when someone reaches a milestone in their recuperation.  

The centre is run on a personal account, i.e., no cash is carried; you simply sign for your purchases and settle your account before leaving.  Rooms are cleaned on daily basis and the quality of the food is excellent.  Regardless of whom you meet the all seem to read the name on your badge very quickly and address you as such, name badges must be worn at all times in the centre.

Back to the physical side, the individual regimes are similar to those from previous physios but still wholly different at the same time, more work based would be the best explanation.  Here they are very passionate about the clients and realise that they are now in charge of turning people’s lives around, whether it be for retirement or back to work.

As I have said previously the centre is run entirely by a charity, therefore fundraising plays an important part.  Each week there are prises donated by clients and a raffle held along with bingo and several quizzes, not my cup of tea I heard several say, as they hide the answers on their paper.  Good night is had by all who attend and take part; it is for a worthwhile cause after all. 

During my week there several POAS reps on a visit to the centre, led by Phil Thomas & Willie Carle, I was asked as were Mick from Franklyn, Durham and Sarah currently working in staff development, about the facilities.  No one could raise any negative criticism, instead we could only heap praise after praise about the centre and the people who were looking after us, to the point of appearing condescending.   The best that could sum up the place was warm, friendly and caring.

Within a few days I could already feel the benefits of a stress free environment and therapies that were making an impact not only physically but mentally as well, I could feel myself grow stronger as the week went on and it was quite evident that I was not the only one who was benefiting.  By the end of the week I had not only made new progress, but several new friends too.

One of the most recurring themes was; I don’t really need any help, I can manage, it’s not for me.  During the week I did not find a single person who thought that they had wasted their time in attending.  I strong urge anyone who is struggling with physical or mental problems to contact the POAS for an application.

A week that started with much apprehension ended with a feeling of exhilaration and renewed optimism.  Is it enough, time will tell. Was it worth it YES?

From a Scottish Member

I hope this personal account helps anyone who has any concerns or apprehensions about the work done by the charity, so if you know of anyone or after reading this you feel you could get a benefit from visiting any of the centers on offer, contact your local branch or national rep we are here to help.