It’s a beautiful sunny Wednesday in West Sussex, and there’s a buzz of excitement coming from the village hall where the Cuckfield Stroke Communication Group meet.
Today is a singing session at the Cuckfield group – part of our UKwide network of groups for stroke survivors and carers. It’s always a popular activity, and the members, including stroke survivor Keith, are excited to begin.
“You get to do things here that you wouldn’t do at home,” says Keith. “Whether that’s speech, singing, ballet or art. Some of the art I have done here, I have taken home. I have bought some brushes so I can do it myself.
“I’ve just turned 70 but I only feel about 50. I don’t feel old. I don’t want to do things that are for old age pensioners. And you don’t have that here.” Keith had a stroke in May 2020. Keen to continue his recovery, get out of the house and meet new people, he joined his local group.
“It’s great to come here and talk to people,” says Keith. “They have helped me be more confident. You can talk about what you like. They’re not judgmental.”
Fellow group member, Dave, who had a stroke in 2014, agrees: “There’s great comradeship. It is nice talking to people who understand and a good opportunity to practise speech. I look forward to every Wednesday. The club always has so many interesting activities.”
Run by our amazing volunteers, stroke support groups enable stroke survivors and carers to meet others who understand their challenges and to try things again.
Volunteer, Carolyn, has been leading the group in Cuckfield for over 15 years. “We support stroke survivors to make new friends, raise confidence, improve their communication and have fun through lots of different activities,” says Carolyn. “We do picture quizzes, golf, music - and even ballet and samba rhythm drumming.”
Carolyn is supported by an enthusiastic team of volunteers, including Karen. “When people come into a new group, it can be a bit daunting, so we help them for the first few weeks until they settle in and feel happy to mix more with other people,” says Karen.
“I enjoy seeing people gain confidence and start to make friends. Some people are wary to start with, they don’t think the group will be for them. But it’s surprising how quickly they adapt.”
As well as making sure everyone has fun, the volunteers also support people with their speech and language skills. “We give people time to be themselves,” says Karen. “We don’t dismiss them because they can’t talk or put words into their mouths. We support people to have the confidence to try, and to know that no-one’s going to judge.”
Keith feels that attending the group has helped his speech. “I am better than I used to be,” he says. “I am sitting here talking to you now, I wouldn’t have done that otherwise. I find that tremendous.”
What does the Cuckfield group mean to Keith? “It means freedom,” he says. “I can be myself, right or wrong, it doesn’t matter. You are free to be your own person.”
Dave agrees. “What the group means to me is friendship, caring and wonderful people. Nothing is too much trouble. My wife and I can’t speak highly enough of Carolyn and her team.”
It’s not just members who enjoy the group. Jane, who also volunteers there says: “I love making people smile. When we do an activity together, like singing, there’s such an uplifting feeling in the room. Volunteering is such a positive thing to do. The feedback you get back from the members is more than you put in. It’s so lovely and friendly.”
With their voices warmed up, and song sheets in hand, Keith and Dave are ready to join in the singing. But first, Keith has some advice for other stroke survivors: “Join a group like this. As simple as that. And be yourself.”
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Stroke News magazine
This article is featured in the summer 2023 edition of our magazine, Stroke News. Subscribe to our future editions available in print, on audio CD, or via email.