Headway East Lothian

Headway East Lothian, better known as HEL to its members, is a support group founded in 2004 based in Dunbar, Scotland. The group aims to support and improve the quality of life for people with Acquired Brain Injuries and their families, by offering opportunities to access resources so that they can cope with challenges they may face and help bring people together through tough times. This support for the whole family unit is really important, because the consequences of a brain injury can affect more than just the individual.

Joyce is the current development officer for HEL. It is her job to help sustain, expand and improve the services offered so that every member has access to the support they need. She explained that “people with brain injuries and their families have been through a traumatic experience, it affects their whole lives. There can be a change to financial circumstances, employment or new care and support needs.”

These changes impact on everyone. That is why HEL try and support family and carers as well as brain injury survivors.

HEL offers a variety of different services to try and improve the confidence and self-esteem of its members, by giving them the skills and information that help people manage their condition. They have three weekly meetings open to brain injury survivors and their carers which can include things like games, all ability cycling, art lessons, weekends away, relaxation & mindfulness sessions, informative talks, exercise classes and other social events. All of which are designed to support brain injury survivors build up their independence and support their ongoing rehabilitation.

Grace has been a member of HEL for seven years. She first found out about the group from her local GP, who put her in touch with HEL’s development officer. Using the buddy system, which puts new members in touch with one another so people always have someone to attend meetings with, Grace was able to easily integrate into the group. Like many people who have suffered a brain injury Grace was left thinking was there anyone the same as her? With the support of HEL, which let her take part in social activities and make new friends, whilst also being more physically and mentally active, she was able to answer her question.

By meeting with people who could really empathise with her and support her rehabilitation she was able to feel far less lonely and isolated.  

Over the past year these face-to-face meetings were unable to run, but that did not stop HEL from continuing to support its members like Grace. “The group became a telephone and online support service; moving with restrictions, we provided activity packs and well-being support for members. We also provided safe, COVID secure transport for people who found it difficult to access public transport so that they could attend vaccination or hospital appointments.” Joyce explained. This continued support during the pandemic was absolutely crucial to continuing rehabilitation of HEL’s members and making sure that they did not feel vulnerable and isolated at such a difficult time.

One of these online activities which Joyce described was a talk from the polar explorer and brain injury survivor David Aston. David gave a talk on how he overcame the difficulty of reaching the north pole and how this compared to the challenges of suffering a brain injury at 44. Both David and his wife Jacki are regular contributors to HEL and his informative virtual talk about the obstacles which he had to overcome were crucial to maintaining the links between members during the pandemic.


David and Jacki’s involvement together in the group is testament to the community HEL offers to brain injury survivors and their families. 

Would you and your family or carers like to hear a talk from a polar explorer and brain injury survivor? Then search and find more groups like HEL in the UK Neuro Network today.

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