As you read this, stop for a moment to appreciate the continuous rise and fall in your chest; an everyday movement we often take for granted.
If something as second nature as breathing was to present any challenges, the emotional impact can be as shattering as the physical one.
To encourage those with chronic respiratory conditions to breathe a sigh of relief that there is hope in the future, Breathe Easy is a Rotherham-based support group that organises monthly meet-ups at the unique, state-of-the-art Breathing Space on Badsley Moor Lane.
A rise in breathing problems
As an industrial town, Rotherham has a legacy forged on steel and coal. But while the pits have since closed, the coal dust has settled, ingrained into the health of its former workers and their families with a rise in COPD cases.
For other people like Wilma who runs Breathe Easy, their breathing difficulties are the result of a life-long habit of smoking.
Having smoked for 34 years, Wilma was diagnosed with emphysema age 50 and had to stop working due to the severity of the damage to her lungs.
But even now, 18 years on and despite her own health struggles, she is an inspiration to others that life doesn’t have to be defined by what it says on the medical notes.
How Breathe Easy helps
Wilma has been involved with Breathe Easy for 16 years and runs the group with her friend Glenda.
When dealt with a diagnosis such as COPD, many people can feel frightened of what will happen in the future, become socially isolated due to limiting activity levels, or are embarrassed by their condition, especially if they need an oxygen supply.
Yet services such as Breathe Easy prove that a bit of moral support goes a long way.
“Being involved in Breathe Easy gives me and those who attend the sessions a reason to get up and go even if we don’t feel like it. Before I joined I would have given up so easily but now I’m much more resilient and feel like I have my self worth back.
“There are days when the only thing that gets me up in a morning is my bladder but I also know that I’ve never been the worst on the ward or in the group. We’re all going through the motions differently but we never want to see one another go downhill,” Wilma says.
What is COPD?
COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder, is a group of conditions that cause breathing difficulties in people of all ages. Some don’t realise they have it and put their wheezy breathlessness down to a chesty cough that just won’t shift.
Time living with COPD can be spent in and out of hospital for treatment.
To offer a peaceful sanctuary with the time and space to recover, Rotherham was the first town in the country to launch a specialist respite centre for people with lung conditions.
A space to breathe
Opened in 2008 on the site of the former Badsley Moor Lane Hospital, Breathing Space was funded by an £11million grant from the Coalfields Regeneration Trust which deputy Prime Minister at the time, John Prescott, helped to achieve.
As a patient representative and a voice for people with medical conditions like herself, Wilma has been involved in the Breathing Space project from the initial bidding process to being a service user.
A self-sufficient building built from breathable materials, Rotherham’s Breathing Space was to be the pilot for a national initiative. However, this came at a similar time to the recession and so funding was cut.
Fortunately, Rotherham was brave enough to stand on its own two feet and, with backing by the council, remained open.
Ten years on and having since been taken over by the NHS, the centre has supported thousands of people across the borough by offering respite stays in their 20 private bedrooms that wrap around the open and airy atrium.
“What people love about coming here is the continuity, privacy and dignity they receive. Treatment is gentler and all of the staff understand the different lung conditions so they can help to take away any uncertainty we might be feeling.
“It’s become like a private hospital for many but one where you don’t get forgotten about once you’re discharged,” Wilma says.
What happens at Breathing Space?
Along with respite stays, Breathing Space offers oxygen testing clinics and pulmonary rehabilitation courses in the on-site gym overlooking the tranquil gardens. They also run weekly Tai Chi classes and a choir which both promote breathing and relaxation techniques.
But for Breathe Easy, they use the building as a community hub, a place for members to get together once a month for a catch up.
Every monthly meeting is different; the group welcome guest speakers, go on outings or just have a catch up to see how one another are getting on.
Some come regularly but others may only need to use the service once.
“If people gain something from their visit to Breathe Easy then that’s worthwhile to me. We have some ladies whose late husbands were members and they still continue to attend even after their passing,” Wilma says.
Supported by Rotherham Sitwell Rotary Club
To continue to provide this lifeline to the people of South Yorkshire, Breathe Easy has been supported by Rotherham Sitwell Rotary Club for the past three years.
Rotarian Gurnam Basran is a former chest physician at Rotherham Hospital and so knew of Breathing Space through his work. Wilma was also a patient of his and so he was aware of the support group she ran.
During former GP Yogesh Bhimpuria’s presidency, he nominated the British Lung Foundation as one of his chosen charities – Breathe Easy being a local organisation which the BLF supports.
Some Rotarians knew of Breathing Space or had family members who had used the exceptional facilities, such as secretary Tony Jackson whose mother Betty recovered from a chest infection there; an service she has not stopped commending since.
While others, just like a lot of the general public, never even knew it existed or wouldn’t have known what happened inside.
During their three-year campaign, Sitwell Rotary Club have donated over £5,000 to Breathe Easy which has helped fund days out or buy walking aids for those who struggle with their mobility.
It is a prime example of their motto – service above self.
Members such as Wilma get up and do, despite their health which might see them having an oxygen supply for anything up to 16 hours a day.
But they continue on, sticking together like a big family to get each other through the hurdles they may face.
Breathe Easy meet every third Monday of the month at Breathing Space, Badsley Moor Lane, Rotherham S65 2QL, 2pm-4pm.
the physiotherapists at Breathing Space run a coffee and a catch up social afternoon every four weeks from 1.30pm. Admission is £1 which include refreshments, a quiz and a game of bingo.
Breathing Space choir – every Monday 11am-12pm.
Tai Chi classes at Breathing Space: Monday 3.30pm-4.30pm, Tuesday 2.30pm-3.30pm