Words: Laura McDonagh | Photos: Siobhan Gaffey
Sharon tells her story of how being supported by Leeds Irish Health and Homes has helped her find freedom in swimming at community led Bramley Baths.
Sharon’s father hails from Newtownards outside Belfast. “I’ve been there lots of times,” Sharon says. “I think that’s why when I was looking for a support worker, I was referred to Leeds Irish Health and Homes through Live Well Leeds.”
Sharon has some physical needs – she has lymphedema, arthritis and issues with the veins and arteries in her legs – and has experienced periods of poor mental health.
“My instincts are usually to hide and not go anywhere when things are bad, which doesn’t help,” she explains.
Not long after Sharon first started receiving support from LIHH, the UK entered its first pandemic lockdown. Sharon found the virtual arts and crafts groups helpful.
“I did lots of art and painting with Megan and Emma,” she says. “I’ve always had a creative streak, but it’s been coming out more and more with some encouragement.”
“I’ve got a pile of canvases in my front room now! Mainly landscapes – I’ve done the Giant’s Causeway – but I like to experiment with different things, too.”
Some of Sharon’s artwork.
Over the last year, Sharon has started receiving some light support from LIHH Community Support Worker Siobhan. After reviewing Sharon’s physical needs, Siobhan suggested swimming as a means of getting some gentle exercise.
“I took a bit of persuading,” Sharon admits. “But I decided to give it a go. I’m only about 20 minutes from Bramley Baths, and Siobhan came with me.”
The pool has wide changing rooms to accommodate Sharon’s mobility scooter and a poolside lift to help people with mobility issues get in and out of the water with ease.
“It looked a bit daunting, but there are staff there to help and I was safely belted in,” Sharon explains. “They lowered me in really slowly – I had a great view! And the minute I got in the pool, it was like a different world.”
“I thought, ‘Oh my God, I can move my legs again!’ It felt brilliant.”
On her first visit to the pool, Sharon focused on getting comfortable in the water with Siobhan by her side to help her; by her second trip, she was swimming.
“With my health issues, my legs feel so heavy. It’s hard to explain, but it’s like having to drag yourself to get things done. With swimming, I have some freedom,” she says.
And Siobhan and Sharon have reached an agreement: once she’s been for five swimming sessions, Sharon will try going by herself.
“I’m really proud of myself. I’m not looking too far ahead; I’m just focusing on the next step for now,” Sharon says.
“Siobhan said to me at one point ‘You’re grinning from ear to ear!’ And she’s right – the smile on my face says it all.”
For more information about how Leeds Irish Health and Homes supports people in Leeds, e-mail email@example.com or call 0113 262 5614.