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Open Door - November 2012 pages 12 and 13

Ann Radcliffe Ann Radcliffe

Ann Radcliffe

I had trained as a primary school teacher in the 80s and done a few years teaching when I met and married my husband (also a teacher, secondary range). We decided not to spend the rest of our lives teaching and in 1991, following a lot of talking and thinking, we decided to run a coffee shop on the Isle of Arran.

I had always been fit and active, but in 1994 (aged 32), my right leg suddenly got weaker, and began giving way under me, so my balance became uncertain. This is not a good thing when you are trying to carry a tray of coffee cups over an uneven stone floor. I also developed a tendency to veer sideways and collide with door jambs.

I had a word with my GP on Arran. He sent me up to Glasgow Infirmary for a lumbar puncture and an MRI scan. In November my GP called me in to tell me that MS had been diagnosed.

Although my symptoms gradually eased off over time, we sold the coffee shop and moved back to Cumbria. My husband took up a job in the School Music Service (15 years later he is still teaching the guitar) and I started work at a local private children's nursery.

I told nobody about the MS as it was not obvious and was being no problem at all then. I even cycled into work and back, a round trip of about 18 miles.

After our daughter was born in 1999, there were a couple of periods of severe double vision (so no car driving until I could get a prism fitted to the right lens in my glasses). The first time lasted about five months and my eyes suddenly changed back to normal in the space of three or four days. The second time was weird. I had given up hope and thought that I would have to wear the prism for ever, when almost a year to the day later, my vision became straight again for no apparent reason at all. It only took a day and was very strange to experience.

Around five years later I began to have MS symptoms again - awful balance, very weak legs, slight incontinence. These have continued to develop and the MS is, year on year, getting slowly worse. I can feel badly fatigued so easily now. It simply means that I have to spread the vacuuming of the house out over four different days, use a stick to walk over a few hundred metres, I can't run or walk fast or even cycle anymore as my balance is so bad. That is the thing that I miss the most.

As I haven't the physical stamina and strength to walk around a classroom any more or to work in a shop or cafe, I thought hard as to what I could do with my time instead.

I got in touch with the local Community Service Volunteers (CSV) who sent me a list of groups and businesses that were always looking for volunteers to help. I was interested in health, cancer (my brother had died of cancer when he was only 27) and children (due to my teaching experience). Within two months I was sorted, and two and a half years on I still feel immense satisfaction that I had opted to go down this route. I have the option to do volunteering full-time, but I keep two afternoons each week for the housework etc. The rest of my time is taken up with volunteering for:

1. Carlisle Carers

I do two respite sits a week in people's homes, so that the carer can have a couple of hours break.

2. Barnardo's

I hadn't realised what a huge number of roles Barnardo's had when I started with them. In the last year or so I have done adult literacy work, adult numeracy work (both with qualified tutors already there), lots of playgroup and nursery sessions, and most recently helping with ESOL (English as a Second or Other Language) classes.

3. Macmillan Cancer Advice and Information Centre at Carlisle Infirmary

There are 12 volunteers who between them cover almost a full week, answering phone calls and letters, or just talking with people who drop in - patients, friends or relatives.

4. Tourist Information Centre

Carlisle TIC were thinking that they would have to close the local Brampton branch down to cut costs. After a local appeal, over 30 people responded and we have managed to keep it going on a volunteer basis. Brampton is a very important centre as we are so close to Hadrian's Wall. It is an extremely interesting job, as you meet such a variety of travellers, each with a story to tell.

5. Marie Curie Cancer Care

March is the busiest month, when the daffodil boxes appear in shops and businesses. I have done this for over seven years now, and am responsible for delivering and then collecting the boxes local to me - 25 this year. I also volunteer for supermarket collections. This year I banked over £1,800 from both the supermarket collections and all the daffodil boxes.

Volunteering has changed my entire life for the better. My travel expenses are covered, so all it takes is my time, of which I have plenty now.

I can wholeheartedly recommend volunteering. You can choose exactly what you want to do, and how much. I do what I do because it is all sitting down jobs with which I can cope. I have chosen the times and days that I volunteer and so it all dovetails very well.

But most of all, it is so rewarding and fulfilling. I had been at the lowest point, convinced that I was worthless, useless and not needed. Now, nearly every day, someone says to me how much they value my time and input, or that I make their lives easier simply by being there. That's a wonderful feeling to have.

I also support the MS Trust with a monthly donation. They give me so much information when I need it. I read Open Door cover to cover and it's made me see how very varied and individual people's experiences are, and the different ways in which people can adapt and cope. I find it very heartening and it gives me much reassurance as to all the people who are going through the same things as me. I don't feel so alone now and wish for everyone else to feel the same.

Could you volunteer for the MS Trust?

The MS Trust is looking for volunteers to help us by raising awareness and funds in their local communities. For more information on how you can get involved, please contact Donna on 01462 476707 or

Other sources of information on volunteering



  • Community Service Volunteers / 020 7278 6601
  • Volunteering England / 020 7520 8900
  • Most English counties have a Council for Voluntary Service (CVS)



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