Published: 21/03/2014 12:00 - Updated: 21/03/2014 11:55

Fun and friendship

Written byChris Saunderson

THEIR sight may be failing them but their passion for life remains undiminished.

A service to help people aged over 65 in Moray with a visual impairment has supported 100 people in its first two years.

The Connect Inform Support (CIS) project brings together people from all walks of life and parts of Moray who otherwise would be at risk of social exclusion due to their circumstances.

Run by the North East Sensory Services, which in Moray is based at Elizabeth House – formerly Victoria Crescent Medical Centre – the charity offers people companionship, support, advice and a range of fun activities. The permanent staff do this through a team of willing volunteers who either visit people in their own homes or support them at group activities.

The three-year project, which received 80% funding from the Big Lottery, marked its second anniversary last week with a musical celebration in the Williamson Hall, Elgin.

Jeannie Pirie (76), from Keith, was among those clients taking part and she revealed just how big a part of her life it has become.

“I am blind in one eye and partially sighted in the other,” she said. “I try to carry on as normal at home but I have a few accidents and tumbles, because I lose my balance.

“It has been great the last couple of years coming to this group. I have made a lot of friends,” added Jeannie.

“The carers are exceptional and they are all volunteers. It is a part of my life now. I have made lots of friends and I look forward to seeing them.”

Jeannie, who is from Newmill originally, lived in Nigeria for three years with her water engineer husband Sandy, who died 28 years ago.

She was then a carer to a friend of her husband for 23 years until he died.

Jeannie has three children – Sandy, Susan and Gordon – and four grandchildren – Nicole, Donna, Juan and Gordon, a soldier who died seven years ago in a car crash, and seven-year-old great granddaughter Tara.

Clare Harris, senior community inclusion co-ordinator, said the aim of the project is to give people the information and support they need to lead more independent and as fulfilled lives as possible.

“We have 100 people who have been referred and supported by the service and that is ongoing,” she added.

It is hoped to secure funding from the Big Lottery to allow the project to be extended beyond its initial three-year period.

There are local groups in Elgin, Buckie and Keith, as well as regular meetings at Elizabeth House and the Williamson Hall, with a range of visits and special events organised throughout the year, among them a Burns Supper and Christmas party.

Volunteers can also help people attend medical and other appointments, or provide companionship in their own home with a regular chat over a cuppa.

Clare added: “The volunteers are the face and the heart of CIS. In the last few months, since I have been in post I have witnessed so many examples of the commitment, enthusiasm, goodwill and willingness of all the volunteers.”

One of the volunteers, Michelle Hunter (46), from Elgin, said: “I get a lot of pleasure and joy from helping out people.”

Michelle, along with her sister Natalie, helped care for her parents Kathleen (79) and Crawford (73), who died five months apart, both from cancer.

“I felt as though I was a bit isolated after they died but I had great support from my three children,” she added.

Michelle, who suffers from fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis, said being a volunteer with CIS is very rewarding. “It feels like a family and seeing the people smile makes me smile too,” she added.

Local singing group, The Melody Makers, provided the entertainment for the party and John Penman (80), from Kingston, led the clients, volunteers and staff in a rousing chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’.

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