When a hospital consultant first suggested Joan Spoors set up a support group for stroke survivors in Hartlepool almost 20 years ago, she wasn't quite convinced.
Joan had been working alongside consultant Mr Bruce as a liaison hospital sister, with an interest in stroke, for many years and was due to retire. Luckily for the many people the group has helped over the years, she warmed to the idea and Hartlepool's First Stroke Support Group has been meeting once a week ever since.
Out and about
The group is open to people who have had a stroke, and their family, friends and carers. In fact the group's treasurer, Marlene, first came along to the group to support her husband who had suffered a stroke. She now helps Joan run the weekly activities at the club, which meets in a large communal area at St Joseph's Court sheltered housing complex in the town.
"Sometimes, we have people come along and give talks," says Joan, "but mostly, we like to get out and about and go on trips."
One of the group's favourite places to go is the Wainstones Hotel in Great Broughton, North Yorkshire. "We go there about four times a year: it's where we have our Christmas do. We hire a bus to take us, we play bingo, have a big sing-along, and a Christmas meal of course. We're there all day, and it's a great day out."
The group supports local businesses, too: the Schooner pub at Seaton is another of their favourite haunts. But what else does the group get up to?
"Each week, we have quizzes and bingo. As well as paying £1 subs, each member pays £1 into our weekly raffle. We also play the Lottery bonus ball with a big prize at Christmas!"
Joan is always keeping an eye out for new opportunities for the group and Peter Gowland, a project development officer for Hartlepool Voluntary Development Agency (HVDA), helps her find out about different grants that are available. Joan has recently used some grant funding to buy new games and equipment, including skittles and bowls, so that the group members can keep active indoors.
While coming along to the group is a social occasion, there's practical help on hand, too. As well as being an experienced nurse, Joan herself suffered a stroke some years ago, so is aware of what her members are going through. Members can also seek advice from Tracy, a support worker from the national charity The Stroke Association, who attends some of the meetings to help people find about the different services and benefits that may be available to them.
The group is open to stroke survivors living in Hartlepool. "Unfortunately, we're restricted on the number of members we can have, because of fire safety regulations," says Joan. "Also, we don't arrange transport to or from weekly meetings: our members, or their carers, need to do that themselves."
However, you do not need a referral from your GP or adult social care to attend the group. If you, or someone you care about, has had a stroke and are interested in coming along to the club, telephone Tracy on 01429 284836. If Tracy is not able to answer the phone, you can leave an answer phone message for her and she will call you back.
For more information about stroke or stroke services, visit our stroke information page.