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How the power of football is increasing brain injury support

The partnership between Liverpool County FA and The Brain Charity is helping to raise both awareness and funds for survivors

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A new partnership is harnessing the power of football to help increase support for people living with brain injuries and other neurological conditions. 

Liverpool County FA is working alongside The Brain Charity to raise both funds and awareness around the impact brain illness or injury can have on individuals and families. It is also supporting the frontline work of the charity in delivering support across Merseyside and, increasingly, the wider UK. 

The two-year partnership is building on the love of football to help engage people, and hopes it can particularly target men, who can be a hard to reach group who are reluctant to seek support. 

In another strand of the initiative, Liverpool County FA will work alongside its new charity partner to help grassroots football clubs and leagues to be more dementia-friendly, and learn how to recognise early warning signs and offer support. 

It will also help to raise awareness of the growing links between football and neurodegenerative illness – building further on the work of the FA nationally with its guidance around high-force heading in training to help grassroots players understand the risks. 

Daniel Green, CEO of Liverpool County FA, says the partnership will offer support to brain injury survivors in a host of ways. 

“We hope it will be quite diverse. As well as the financial support we can hopefully give to The Brain Charity, we are looking at areas which could potentially include employment and volunteering and how we can work together, be it through support around education, coaching and CPD qualifications, for some of the their clients,” he says. 

“If we can use football to tackle some of the social isolation they may have been experiencing and rebuild their confidence, then then we believe we’ve got a real role to play locally. 

“Football can cater for all demographics, male and female, young and old, but we know the male population can be particularly hard to reach. Football is still quite a male dominated game, and while this goes more broadly than just neurological issues, men don’t tend to talk very openly, or will maybe be more flippant, in talking about what troubles them. 

“The Brain Charity have identified a real target audience that they want to work with, and to potentially use the power of football to get to those individuals to feel more comfortable talking about and identifying what those issues may be.” 

Another key aspect of the partnership focuses on the high-profile issue of dementia in football, with Liverpool County FA working with The Brain Charity to raise awareness of the signs and impact of the illness. 

“There is the wider issue and ongoing work around dementia linked to football, and back in July the FA issued their updated guidance for amateur and youth football, both male and female. So this is something we are raising awareness of, and how to spot those early signs of dementia too,” says Daniel. 

“This could be among people who have had a career in football, or they may not have done, but it’s about how we can all work together to spot those symptoms, and identify the actions that friends, family and people’s wider networks can take to support people from recognising the signs through to managing the symptoms. 

“And also, one of the big challenges The Brain Charity have identified is, it’s one thing that clients receive the medical support and advice that they need, but it’s another thing to look at their own physical wellbeing alongside that.

“We’re keen to use the facilities at our disposal to link the two elements. So an individual may receive some counselling through The Brain Charity, and we’ll then help facilitate a walking football session, or something of that nature, so that they’re getting not only the medical advice that they need, but also that physical wellbeing piece for them. 

“We can provide that safe environment whereby they can talk openly, to try and find that normality again for them and rebuild that confidence. We’re also keen to work with our local clubs to see how we can work together to reintegrate people back into a football environment, but in a manner that is sensitive to some of the challenges they may face – but that’s in its early stages.”

Nanette Mellor, CEO of The Brain Charity, said: “We can’t wait to get to work delivering a programme of physical activities, awareness campaigns, fundraising appeals and volunteering opportunities in partnership with their staff and wider grassroots network.

“Liverpool County FA’s key value of ‘Football for All’ matches our own wholehearted commitment to fighting for an inclusive society.

“We are excited to improve the health and wellbeing of people with neurological conditions across Merseyside, with their support.”

Daniel adds: “Through discussions very early on with The Brain Charity there’s a lot that we need to try and get to grips of, but there’s also a lot of opportunities as well. 

“We hope that through the two-year partnership we will be able to put in place the service provision and structures so that when the two years come to an end, the work will be able to continue, so we can continue to support people with neurological conditions for the long term.”

Inpatient rehab

Sue Ryder looks to increase neuro-rehab provision

Plans are being considered for the South East, in response to significant demand for its specialist resources and care

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Neurological care provider Sue Ryder is drawing up plans to increase its neuro-rehab provision in the South East of England, in response to the growing demand for its specialist resources. 

Its neurological care and rehab centre, The Chantry, is one of limited number of resources in the area to deliver Level 2 rehabilitation, and from its site in Ipswich, takes in patients from across Suffolk, Hertfordshire, Essex and Sussex. 

However, having doubled its Level 2 beds from three to six, the demand for its acute rehab far exceeds availability – and while further current expansion is curtailed by the size of the building, in the longer-term, the team hope to develop provision further. 

In the nearer future, The Chantry is looking at ways to accept more people into its slow-stream rehab service and also look at outpatient and community care services, to help meet demand in an area where the need is particularly high. 

The charity recently held an event, Establishing Effective Neurorehabilitation Services, which explored how providers and Commissioners could maximise opportunities.

Dr Kirsty Kirk

“We came away from that buzzing with thoughts of what we wanted to do, and what Sue Ryder wants to do, and that is give more care to more people,” Dr Kirsty Kirk, head of clinical services at The Chantry, told NR Times. 

“We do have a waiting list and demand for our beds has always been high, as we’re quite unique in this area, but over time demand for this service has changed, and we’re being approached by Commissioners from a wide area.

“The long-term plans are most definitely to grow that (Level 2) service, but we’re constrained by the building, so that will take a bit of planning. 

“But with our slow-stream neuro-rehab, we do have more opportunity to look at what more we could do. That is a slightly longer journey at six to 12 months, and while we’re currently at capacity, probably in the short- to medium-term, we’ll look at a plan around how we can increase resources. 

“I’d also love to see us reach out into the community, supporting people after they leave our rehab support. This is all very much needed.”

The lack of specialist inpatient resource across the country has led to a significant increase in the need for community and at-home support. 

To help meet that, in conjunction with The Chantry’s sister service, Stagenhoe in Hertfordshire, it is looking at what more can be offered. 

“We will continue to take the acute, very complex cases at The Chantry, as we offer specialist neurological care and do it very well – but we can look at what we can offer in other settings,” says Dr Kirk, who returned to frontline care in June 2020 after being inspired by the response of healthcare to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“There is a definite need and Sue Ryder is looking to address that need. We’ll look at the business case for more staff, more space, more resources, see what that would look like. 

“But personally speaking, I’d love to look at outreach and even outpatient services, to see how we can extend our care to more people. 

“The challenge with that currently is that it’s difficult to get the staff as the whole healthcare sector is tired after COVID, many people are tired or are leaving – but we’ll look at it and hopefully that’s a plan for the medium-term.”

As a key resource in the South East, The Chantry supports people aged 18 and over with brain injury and neurological conditions, through both its acute and slow-stream services, and continues to invest in therapy equipment to ensure it is delivering the best possible person-centred rehab.

The Chantry

“We are quite unique in this area as a specialist neuro-rehabilitation provider, and for us, it’s vital that we look at the needs of every individual,” says Dr Kirk, a nurse who has been professional lead in the Schools of Nursing and Midwifery in Cambridgeshire and Suffolk.

“It’s important that we gather information around each individual and their experience, not just biological and physiological, but around their goals and achievements too. 

“It’s essential to work with MDT members to achieve that, I’m particularly proud of the good links we have – in addition to our dedicated team, which includes an occupational therapist, physiotherapist, rehab assistant and registered nurses, we have good links with a speech and language therapist, neuro-rehab consultation and local GPs. 

“It’s that team focus, in addition to the quality of our therapy and the continued investment in what we offer, that makes us really stand out.”

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Sir Michael Palin supports The Brain Charity appeal

The much-loved acting and comedy legend donated his time due to his personal experience of the trauma of neurological conditions

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A charity which supports people with neurological conditions has won the support of Sir Michael Palin in making a national fundraising appeal. 

The Brain Charity is the focus of a BBC Lifeline appeal, which shows its work to a national audience by telling the stories of three people who have benefitted from its support. 

Acting and comedy legend Sir Michael donated his time to present The Brain Charity’s appeal from his personal experience of the impact of neurological conditions – his wife was diagnosed with a benign brain tumour more than 25 years ago, and he saw his Monty Python colleague Terry Jones face the effects of dementia before his death last year.

He said: “Neurological conditions have the potential to wreak havoc on the lives of those they affect; something my family and I can relate to.

“My wife was diagnosed with a benign brain tumour more than 25 years ago, and it was a worrying and frightening time for our family.

“That’s why the important work of The Brain Charity is a cause very close to my heart.

“I am delighted to support them by presenting their Lifeline appeal, and hope the film encourages many much-needed donations for such a worthwhile cause.”

Over the past month, the BBC Lifeline crew has travelled across the UK to see first-hand how The Brain Charity helps people with all forms of neurological condition to lead longer, healthier, happier lives by providing practical advice, emotional support and creative activities.

They filmed with mum-of-three Lindsey, from Dunbar, Scotland, who was diagnosed with secondary progressive MS in her brain in October 2020.

The 60-year-old former deputy headteacher went from being a highly paid, hard-working professional to wondering how her family was going to cope.

She found the practical advice she received from The Brain Charity’s information and advice officer Janet ‘life-changing’ and said this reminded her that there was still a future for her post-diagnosis.

The eight-minute film also features Rachel, 46, from Cheshire, who spent two weeks in a coma and had to learn to walk and talk again after experiencing a brain haemorrhage.

After an operation to remove the tangle of blood vessels which had cause the haemorrhage, Rachel began to make a physical recovery, but struggled mentally.

She found it difficult to leave the house due to low confidence around her speech, which had been affected, and experiencing debilitating night terrors that she was back in intensive care.

In May 2020, she was offered six weeks of free counselling from The Brain Charity – which she said was a lifeline. She has since decided to give back by becoming a volunteer phone befriender.

Finally, the feature will focus on 18-year-old Sammee, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and recently moved to Liverpool from London.

The Brain Charity’s Brain Changer Arts Project sessions – which combine neuro-physiotherapy and dance – have helped him gain confidence, express himself creatively and make new friends.

The Lifeline appeal will be available to watch on BBC iPlayer here

All funds raised from the Lifeline appeal will go towards The Brain Charity’s Sixmas appeal, which is raising £60,000 for urgent mental health support for the one in six people left out in the cold to deal with their neurological condition alone this Christmas. 

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Community rehab

Breathe Care creating ‘new generation’ of ABI support

The provider is creating an initial two new independent living developments, with more planned

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A care provider is creating a new generation of independent living accommodation to maximise the recovery potential and future opportunities of people living with acquired brain injuries (ABI). 

Breathe Care is set to open two new developments in the coming months – comprising a total of 17 one and two-bedroom apartments – to help bring new and much-needed choice in ABI provision. 

Both developments, in Wellingborough, will have an integrated multi-disciplinary team (MDT) on site around the clock, which clinicians specialising in neurotrauma and ABI rehabilitation. 

St Heliers in Wellingborough site

And plans are already underway for Breathe Care to expand its accommodation and care provision further across the country. Kettering has been identified as the next location, with hopes to bring 14 apartments to the town by the end of 2022, followed by a move into adjoining counties.

Breathe Care has shaped its ABI model based on the expertise of its leadership team, bringing together years of experience spanning brain injury rehabilitation and care, commercial development, supported living and architecture and design. 

Its chief clinical director, Amanda Swain, has over 30 years of experience of developing, establishing and reinventing ABI and neurological care services.

Its new developments – flagship project, St Heliers, and Edwards Chambers – build on its experience of operating independent living apartments in specialist mental health care across Northamptonshire for over a decade.  

“We did a lot of research into what the current offering for long term living with slow stream rehabilitation in ABI looks like in this area and realised that we could make a really big difference,” says Stephen Crouch, founder and chief executive of Breathe Care. 

“A lot of the client group is aged between 20 and 30, but the choice is often living in an HMO or care home with older people. Independent living apartments, done at a high standard, can bring huge benefits to this group in particular. Our projects are very specialist and answer an exact need. 

“Not only are they beautiful apartments, but they can help to reduce anxiety and anger through   clients having their own space and privacy, while having the support there 24/7 as and when they need it.”

The combination of living space designed for the exact requirements of its residents, coupled with a specialist MDT on site that includes specially-trained support staff, is already helping Breathe Care and its model to stand out from the competition, says Stephen. 

“Because our team is there around the clock, and the clinicians or Amanda are there, we are creating a new level of support. We can introduce new or better processes for these people as soon as they are needed, which will lead to better outcomes,” he says. 

While the focus is on getting everything ready for a January launch for St Heliers, Breathe Care is also turning its attention to future plans and replicating its model elsewhere in the country. 

“For now, the main thing is getting the care team established at Wellingborough. This style of independent living accommodation is badly needed,” says Stephen. 

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