Breathe Easy Darlington came into being through the auspices of the British Lung Foundation (BLF - Now Asthma + Lungs UK) and local NHS Respiratory staff, who invited a number of pulmonary patients (pulmonary being the third biggest killer in the UK) to a presentation of the concept, already in place in many areas of the UK, back in 2008.
The launch took place in March 2009, after five of those present took up the challenge and through word of mouth, advertising in the Northern Echo etc invited currently diagnosed lung patients to our first gathering. Membership was, and remains, free. Progressing fast Breathe Easy Darlington were awarded the British Lung Foundation (Now Asthma + Lungs UK), Breath of Fresh Air Regional Award for Outstanding New Group 2009-2010.
The group continues to be run by volunteers who themselves have respiratory disease, including the active support of two of the original founders. So we fully understand the needs of members; the embarrassment of breathlessness and coughing, how frightening it can be and the horrible side effects of drugs used. We also understand the incorrect and ill-informed stigma of respiratory disease being the result of smoking; this is far from always the case.
As membership grew, donations to the British Lung Foundation (Now Asthma + Lungs UK) for research from fundraising events grew similarly. This resulted in Breathe Easy Darlington being awarded a similar Breath of Fresh Air Regional Award Contribution to BLF Projects in 2011-2012.
However fundraising has never been identified as our primary role. We see the main reason for our existence and efforts as the nurturing and provision of growing support for those in Darlington and surrounding areas with any lung disease, of any type or severity.
Members are very often (but not exclusively) either elderly, alone or both; perhaps restricted through lack of mobility in how much they can get out of the house, by permanent oxygen requirement, or lack of confidence in looking after their own ailments.
In the early years the lack of opportunities to get out, loneliness and self-confidence were the issues addressed. Monthly Social Events, at which tips on self help as well as general chat were swapped, usually accompanied by a bar meal and followed by a Speaker. Presentations to the group at these monthly Socials ranged from local history, suppliers of foodstuffs ideal for those with restricted movement as well as professional talks from NHS staff, to local emergency services. All have their own amusing anecdotes.
Our secondary role has always been to educate both public and politicians of the nature and widespread presence of lung disease, including fighting air pollution.
We were, and still are, offering trips out in the summer months to places of local interest in order to increase away from home support and social mixing. Since 2018 walks in South Park, Darlington have also been on the summer agenda.
In 2010 we were able to take the support for members of the group a step further with the setting up of BLF (Now Asthma + Lungs UK) Active sessions after the kind volunteering of a Specialist Respiratory Sister from Darlington Memorial Hospital (later to receive a personal Breath of Fresh Air Award for Outstanding Healthcare and Service to the Local Community). This allowed us to commence to offer weekly exercise courses to BLF guidelines, assisting members to achieve greater body strength (imperative when one is so inactive), stamina, breathing control and awareness of their lungs.
These weekly Breathe Easy Active two hour sessions, as well as the monthly Socials, continue to this date, the former now run by an outside company whose specialist training was paid for by Breathe Easy Darlington out of funds raised. These sessions now include dance (for which we were one of two trial areas), yoga and tai chai. All exercise is on a ‘do what you can and feel comfortable with’ basis.
Newsletters and a Private Facebook page have been in place since early days, keeping members abreast with our news, BLF news and slotting dates into member’s diaries.
The financial affairs of Breathe Easy Darlington were greatly improved in 2013 with generous donations of £1000 from Enterprise Holdings Foundation (car and van rental), and £3000 from Lloyds Bank Community Fund. We were also named as one of the Mayor Of Darlington’s chosen charities in 2017. Since that time we have been supported by too many companies to mention, especially those within BNI Champions over 2019 and 2020.
During 2019 we also took part, as a trial, in a Singing Group (another activity that like specialist exercise is known to be most helpful to those with lung disease) with Dementia UK which proved extremely popular.
2019 also marked the end of the strong support and control of Breathe Easy Groups by the BLF as it prepared to merge with Asthma UK. They made the decision to move away from the Breathe Easy groups, concentrating 100% on funding research. Breathe Easy Groups such as ours were encouraged to move away, becoming charities, Affiliated to BLF and Asthma UK (Now Asthma + Lungs UK).
Access to BLF advise (Now Asthma + Lungs UK), leaflets and Helpline remain as before.
The last two years has therefore seen an incredible amount of work being carried out concentrating on ensuring that Breathe Easy Darlington continues to support those with lung disease as much as, if not more than, before. Our application for recognition as a Charity is currently with the Charities Commission. It is a slow process, but 2022 should see the receipt of a response; hopefully positive.
Throughout Lockdown, during which most if not all members were classified Clinically Extremely Vulnerable, it was not possible to hold any of the activities above. Instead we took to weekly Zoom meetings, again with guests from a cartoon lecturer giving us lessons to an international composer and singer. Unfortunately the intricacies of Zoom and the requirement to be computer literate and online, resulted in reduced numbers, but Newsletters and telephone calls kept us in touch in the main.
In September 2021 we returned to our monthly and weekly activities with the exception of singing, which we hope will follow in the near future.
Having expected to return to a small number of active members, it is a testament to our strength and resilience that we were met by a flurry of new members at the end of lockdown, with numbers at Socials very much as before Lockdown and Exercise class attendees quite noticeably in excess of those before.
Onwards and upwards. There is a huge amount more to do and many more to help.