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Thursday, 24 September 2020

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Make use of free telephone befriending service, says leading sight loss charity

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LEADING sight loss charity the Macular Society is urging people living in Northern Ireland who are affected by macular disease to use its free telephone befriending service.

The charity is calling on anyone who lives in the country and has a macular condition to make use of the service to help ease any increased feelings of loneliness and isolation they may be experiencing following the coronavirus outbreak.

The call comes after the Society was awarded a £40,000 grant from The National Lottery Community Fund to help provide an increased range of remote services in Northern Ireland, including telephone befriending, while social distancing measures remain in place.

Telephone befrienders provide a regular phone call, helping to reduce feelings of isolation and rebuild confidence and independence. The Macular Society aims to match users with a befriender who shares common interests and experiences, or understands exactly what living with macular disease is like.

Karen Toogood, Macular Society senior regional manager for Northern Ireland, said:

“Macular disease can be a cruel and isolating condition at any time, but for someone who is shielding during the coronavirus outbreak and isn’t having face-to-face contact with anyone, it can be extremely challenging.

“The Macular Society’s befriending service offers people with macular disease an opportunity to have regular interaction with someone who can provide a reassuring presence and a friendly ear. Our befrienders have macular conditions themselves, so they truly know what the person they’re speaking to is experiencing. But it’s also entirely user-driven and the calls don’t have to focus on sight loss – if you want to talk to someone with similar hobbies or interests, the Society will do everything it can to find a befriender who’ll be a suitable match for you.”

Macular disease is the biggest cause of sight loss in the UK. Nearly 1.5 million people are currently affected and many more are at risk. The disease can have a devastating effect on people’s lives, leaving them unable to drive, read or see faces. Many people affected describe losing their sight as being similar to bereavement. There is still no cure and most types of the disease are not treatable. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the most common form of macular disease, affecting more than 600,000 people, usually over the age of 50. In Northern Ireland, it is estimated that more than 55,000 people have macular disease, with 10 new cases being diagnosed every day.

One person already benefiting from using the befriending service in Northern Ireland is Joan Carr. Joan, 87, who lives in County Antrim, currently receives a call from her befriender once a week.

Joan said:

“I clicked straight away with the lady that rings me. I do look forward very much to the calls and hearing her voice. I often apologise to her actually, because we can lose track of time nattering away, and the calls will go on for a long time! We usually speak every fortnight, but while we’ve been in lockdown, she’s been calling me once a week and that’s been really wonderful.

“I’d definitely encourage anyone who’s interested in receiving a call from a befriender to contact the Macular Society. Even though it’s someone you’ve never met, just having that familiar voice on the other end of the phone does make a big difference.”

Karen said:

“No one should ever have to face macular disease alone, and our befriending service ensures that, even with social distancing measures in place, no one has to. The service is open to anyone living in Northern Ireland who has macular disease, so if you’d like to receive a regular call from one of our befrienders, then please get in touch.

“Expanding this service in Northern Ireland wouldn’t have been possible without the National Lottery Community Fund, so we’d like to thank them, and all of the lottery players, for all their support.”

For more information about the Macular Society’s befriending service, please call 0300 3030 111 or visit macularsociety.org/telephone-befriending.

For information on other services currently available from the Macular Society, please call the charity’s Advice and Information Service on 0300 3030 111 or email help@macularsociety.org.

Since 2009, funding from the National Lottery Community Fund has helped the Macular Society deliver a range of vital support services across Northern Ireland and more than triple its number of peer support groups.

The award of this latest grant takes the total amount of funding awarded to the Macular Society by the National Lottery Community Fund in Northern Ireland to £690,000 over the past 11 years.

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