Bognor volunteer living with MS marks 30 years of Helpline

A Bognor Regis man who lives with multiple sclerosis (MS) has been talking about the support he’s received from the MS Helpline – as it celebrated its 30th anniversary.

The helpline was launched by the MS Society in November 1991 and supports tens of thousands of people affected by MS each year.

Last year alone, it had over 26,000 enquiries on the phone, email and via Facebook messenger.

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Stuart Thomson, age 58, said: “I was diagnosed with MS in 1991. There was no internet, I couldn’t Google what was going on, so I took myself off to the library and looked it up in a book.

Stuart Thomson

“I transferred from my job as a firefighter to fire control – taking 999 calls, but later my fatigue got too much and I medically retired at 31.

“I was at my lowest point but then I saw an advert on Twitter for MS Helpline volunteers.

“It was something I could do at home and taking calls and using a headset was all very familiar from my time in fire control.

“I started volunteering seven years ago. I enjoy that I have no idea what’s going to come in.

“It’s like my job with the fire service in that respect. But most of all, I like the feeling I get when I feel I’ve left a caller in a better place.”

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Over the past year the MS Helpline has extended the support it provides in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

An MS nurse service began at the start of the first lockdown and had 1,560 enquiries during 2020; befriending calls have also been added.

The MS Helpline also offers support from a welfare benefits advisor, an MS legal advisor and a physical activity service.

Stuart said: “It’s great to be able to put callers through to these services – it’s added so much to the helpline.”

Abi Stidston and Julie Gaynor are joint heads of Helpline at the MS Society.

They said: “We’re incredibly proud to be marking the MS Helpline’s 30th anniversary and would like to say a huge thank you to all the staff and volunteers who’ve supported us over this time.

“Over 130,000 people live with MS in the UK and it can be relentless, painful and disabling.

“We want to be here for everyone impacted by the condition, whatever they’re going through – whether they are newly diagnosed, have lived with the condition for decades, or are a family member of someone with MS.

“We do everything from providing emotional support, offering information around treatment and therapies to helping people with benefits and financial difficulties.”

Get in touch with the MS Helpline today at www.mssociety.org.uk/care-and-support/ms-helpline

You can donate to this vital service at www.mssociety.org.uk/helpline-30