Deep sea diving

In her regular column highlighting local projects, charities and services, Link4Growth volunteer Debra Oakaby makes waves in Walthamstow

MS Action

Jill Harston using a pedal machine in the gym at MS Action, Walthamstow

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a neurological condition affecting around 100,000 people in the UK and roughly three times more women than men. Symptoms can include problems with vision, fatigue and walking difficulties.

Based in Waltham Park Way, Walthamstow, MS Action is one of only two therapy centres in London. It offers oxygen therapy for the relief of symptoms through a special chamber, shaped like a grapefruit, seating six people at a time. The centre also provides therapies including osteopathy and chiropody.

Here I meet Jan Robinson, who has been the manager since 2005 and is friendly and empathetic. She explains that the centre provides services to people with other serious medical conditions including strokes, cancer, and Parkinson’s disease, while they also treat children with cerebral palsy and autism.

Jan says she loves her job and adds: “It’s a very nice place here.” It’s something other people I meet there say too. I learn there is a big demand for therapies and more volunteers are required to help out. Donations are also welcome because the centre is self-funded.

Jean Atkins, a longstanding volunteer and member of the management committee since 1999, is busy working in the office when I arrive. She speaks fondly of the work the MS Action team does.

Members start coming in for the midday group physiotherapy session. I quickly catch up with Mandy Jarvis, one of three physiotherapists who work at the centre. “I like the fact we can work with patients to achieve their goals,” she tells me. “We don’t have to adhere to a tick list of treatments.

“Each member has an individually tailored programme and benefits are realised through seeing peoples’ activity levels maintained and, in some cases, improved.”

When I needed physiotherapy treatment for my own MS condition five years ago, it was Mandy who issued me with my very first walking stick at such an appointment.

While I’m here I also speak to Megan Wylie-Smith, who was using a standing frame for those unable to stand on their own. She said: “This is an important part of my life. They are friends and professionals.”

I am then introduced to John and Jean Simkins, who has been involved with the centre for more than 30 years. We have a chat while they sit inside the oxygen chamber, complete with portholes and a robust door for sealing the divers in. Its blue exterior, painted with all sorts of marine life, sets the scene perfectly.

John, a sprightly and perceptive 87-year-old, talked enthusiastically about the benefits of oxygen therapy, in use at the centre since the 1980s. But people were arriving for their session and reluctantly it was time for me to say goodbye.

Having been so impressed, I want to go diving too, and that means dusting off my wetsuit and copper helmet!


This month the MS Society charity is hosting its annual Cake Break fundraising appeal. To get involved:

Visit cakebreak.org.uk

For more information on MS Action:

Visit msaction.org.uk

Email jan@msaction.org.uk

Call 020 8531 9216

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