James Dewar Banner
James Dewar Banner

Let ellenor Be Part Of Your Life

When James Dewar worked for ellenor he could not have known that some years later he would be using their vital services himself.

Since suffering four strokes the 68-year-old has found the physiotherapy offered at the Gravesend hospice invaluable. The twice weekly seated exercise classes have kept him mobile and given him a more positive outlook.

He said: “The classes have really helped me. I’m pretty lazy to be honest and can’t do anything on my own as I can’t motivate myself, but I meet such an interesting group of people at ellenor. They are from all walks of life, all different cultures – we all have different problems, but we are all there for the same reason.”

The classes are open to anyone in the community who could benefit, not just inpatients at the hospice.

James said: “As I had worked for ellenor in the past I already knew about their services. There’s a good atmosphere and when someone does the wrong thing, we all laugh. The hour goes by so fast. We limber up then exercise our arms and legs – it really does help and after a while you can start to feel the difference.”

James and his wife Anne moved to the UK from Cape Town in South Africa in 2007 to be near their daughter Raquel. Unfortunately, the financial crash a year later put an end to his well-paid job and James started to look in the charity sector for work. He found employment with various charities including ellenor.

He said: “When we moved here, I had a good job, but then my world got turned upside-down. After being made redundant I did several jobs to keep us afloat. I would clean the ellenor offices at Swanscombe from 6-8am, then do the maintenance work there. After that I would work in a shop in the evening. Then I was offered a position managing ellenor’s Dartford and Swanley shops, which was a great opportunity for me.

“They knew I had some experience of business as in South Africa we had a fish and chip shop and a business selling fresh fish. I was able to put some of my knowledge to good use. In fact, we tripled the turnover at the Swanley shop.”

James and his team of volunteers reassessed the stock on display and started to sell more of the items that made a profit. Shoes were always a big hit with the Swanley shoppers. James even drove his car around residential areas picking up small unwanted items of furniture people had left outside their properties.

He said: “I had a meeting with the volunteers and explained I had been employed to help the shop make a profit for ellenor. It was so exciting. It got to the point that the volunteers waited after the end of their usual four-hour shift for us to cash up and see how much we had raised each day.”

Following some personal problems, James returned to South Africa for a while but returned to the UK in 2013, where he again worked in maintenance for another charity and a leisure centre before he was told by the immigration department that he was no longer eligible to work in the UK. He and his wife went through a great deal of stress obtaining his “Indefinite Leave to Remain” status before he was able to work again, this time as a driver and then a maintenance engineer.

Then, four years ago, James suffered two major strokes and two mini strokes or TIAs – all within one month. This left him with limited movement down the right-hand side of his body.

He said: “That was when my whole life changed again.”

After lengthy rehabilitation James was able to work as a part-time school caretaker, but that ended after he had a fall.

He said: “I was told at Kings Hospital that there was a 50/50 chance I would make it through the back operation, so I decided not to take the risk. I manage on strong pain killers, and I receive a disability grant and a small pension.

“Sometimes I feel like my whole body has started to break down in evil ways. I used to be a very competitive lawn bowls player and won several competitions in Gravesend. I do still play, but what I can do is limited. I have tried to bowl with my left hand, but after 30 years of your body doing it one way it is very difficult to programme it to do things differently.

“I still have a lot of fun and enjoy the game, but I can’t play competitively anymore. You can’t change what has happened to you, but you can affect the future."

“My stamina has definitely improved since I have been doing the classes. A lot of people probably don’t realise how many of ellenor’s services can be accessed by the ordinary members of the public. All I had to do to join the seated exercise class was fill in a health questionnaire.

“Everyone has different abilities, but you just do what you can. If you think you are making a mess of it, you can stop and laugh. Later on, it will be someone else’s turn to mess up and make a mistake. Some people have very limited movement, but everybody tries. No one comments on other people, and everyone is so thankful. You are just happy you are able to come along, do the exercises, have a lot of laughs and feel very satisfied afterwards.

“I always stay on after the classes and I get to chat to a lot of very interesting people. Coming along to ellenor has become part of my life.”