In 2003, Ian Collins woke up to discover he couldn't walk or use the right side of his body. He'd had a haemorrhagic stroke in his sleep. To help him come to terms with the impact of his stroke, he was encouraged to attend the Merseyside Life After Stroke Group.
I went to get out of bed and my legs just gave way. I couldn't believe it when the paramedics said I'd had a stroke - I was only 42 at the time.
I spent three months in hospital learning how to walk and use my right arm and hand again, but I wasn't able to return to my job as a joiner. All of a sudden I was taken out of my normal life and thought 'What do I do now?'. I was depressed and felt like a shadow of myself, so the Stroke Association referred me to the group. It was a real saviour for me. They helped me to get my sense of humour back and made me realise I could also help others in the same situation.
With the group's support, my confidence grew. Me and three other volunteers now run the group, and being Chairperson has allowed me to develop it into what it is today. We have 50 regular members who meet up every week for peer support and creative arts sessions, and we also have a monthly meeting for younger stroke survivors. We host workshops to help people develop new skills and increase their independence.
It's a relaxed group, with a great sense of humour. Our aim is to show people that a stroke shouldn't stop you from enjoying life. Our meetings are only two and a half hours, but it makes a lot of difference, and helps people to know they're not on their own. Their carer can go and have a cuppa in the next room, so they're getting respite too. We also arrange days out and everyone's included. We've done canoeing at Crosby Lakeside, which is disabled friendly, and we went to Jodrell Bank Observatory last year, which everyone was made up about. In 2015, we were thrilled to receive a national Life After Stroke Award in recognition of our work.
We're a self-funded group and find inventive ways to raise money, including producing a calendar, organising art exhibitions and even abseiling off Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. During Make May Purple, we go all out to raise money and awareness, from putting on a purple photo shoot to hosting a stand-up comedy night. Last May, we decided to take on a different activity each week, from purple painting to a purple picnic.
We're always coming up with ideas, but one of the things we'll definitely be doing is getting everyone to wear purple. It brings us all together and we have a laugh.
The group helped me get back to my old self. You feel like you're part of something; you help people and they help you. We're all there for each other.