Telephone support replaces Newtownabbey-based sight loss group meetings

Sight loss charity the Macular Society has introduced a range of new telephone and online services to continue supporting people with macular disease, after meetings of its peer support group based in Newtownabbey were suspended following the coronavirus outbreak.
The charity has introduced new measures to support Newtownabbey residents.The charity has introduced new measures to support Newtownabbey residents.
The charity has introduced new measures to support Newtownabbey residents.

The charity has temporarily halted all of its face-to-face services, including the meetings of all of its peer support groups throughout Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, to protect members, volunteers and people using its services as much as possible.

Instead, the society is urging people to call in to its new telephone conference support groups. The groups will be run by the charity’s regional managers or support group volunteers and are open to anyone with macular disease, their families or friends.

For people living in and around Newtownabbey, the first telephone conference support group meeting will take place from 11am-12pm on Wednesday, April 8. Further telephone meetings will be held at the same time on the second Wednesday of each month, until face-to-face group meetings can be safely resumed.

Karen Toogood, Macular Society regional manager, said: “In an unprecedented situation like this, health and wellbeing must always come first. However, it’s absolutely vital that everyone who needs our support continues to receive it.

“Although our face-to-face services have had to be suspended for the time being, we are still on the end of the phone and would strongly urge anyone to call us if they do need our assistance.

“The telephone groups will offer help in understanding macular disease and coming to terms with sight loss; exactly the way that our face-to-face support groups do. They will also help us to ensure that everyone is kept up to date with all the current news and information. But most importantly, they will allow people with macular disease to continue to take part in social activities, helping to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation during these difficult times.”

In addition, all of the charity’s regional managers have set up individual social media accounts, allowing members to contact the regional manager for their area via Facebook or Twitter. The society has also recruited more than 20 new volunteer telephone befrienders, who offer a friendly listening ear to people affected by macular disease.

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, the Macular Society has been able to establish and run new sight loss support groups across the country thanks to £650,000 of National Lottery funding from the National Lottery Community Fund (formerly the Big Lottery Fund). This vital investment has enabled the charity to triple the number of its support groups in Northern Ireland, and deliver a range of other vital services, since 2009.

If you would like to join the telephone conference support group for Newtownabbey, or for more information about additional support services available in Northern Ireland, contact Karen Toogood on 02891 466 305, or email [email protected]

For information on other services currently available from the Macular Society, call the charity’s Advice and Information Service on 0300 3030 111 or email [email protected]


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