In At The Deep End

The Fire fighters Charity’s Head of Marketing and Engagement, Tim Beynon, joins beneficiaries for a day on the programme at Jubilee House.

It was shortly after scanning the programme of activities for the day ahead that I began to regret opting for the Full English that morning. I would be joining a group of nine beneficiaries for a day at Jubilee House – the charity’s state of the art centre in the heart of the Lake District – complete with informative talks, outdoor activities, pool, gym and hydro sessions, and, by the time it arrived, a very welcome half hour of relaxation.

A new recruit to the charity, I was only in my second month as part of the Basingstoke-based Marketing and Engagement team when the opportunity arose to visit our Cumbrian base. Keen to see at first-hand how the charity works and who we work with, I soon found myself motoring up the M6 and into the snow covered mountains of the Lake District.

Situated in the picturesque village of Eamont Bridge, a stone’s throw from the market town of Penrith, Jubilee House is a purpose built rehabilitation and recuperation centre within 10-acres of grounds. Boasting a fully equipped gym and sports hall, an indoor swimming pool, hydrotherapy pool and a host of other impressive facilities and teams – including dedicated nursing and psychological therapy teams – Jubilee House welcomes beneficiaries from across the fire and rescue community, as well as the occasional anxious marketing type.

Offering four, seven and 10 day programme options, I joined a mixed group who, like me, were starting out on their Jubilee experience. Assembling in a cosy conference room, safely away from the sub-zero temperatures outside, the day began with a talk on expectations. Physiotherapist Simon Savage, encouraged my fellow beneficiaries to discuss their expectations for the programme, explaining how the staff team would be available to help and support them, while keeping feet on the ground in terms of any miracle cure expectations. I fully expected, meanwhile, to be hugely impressed by the work of the team and humbled by the bravery and determination of my fellow beneficiaries, and to see my breakfast again when I hit the treadmill.

Next up, however, it was back outside and into those aforementioned sub-zero temperatures for a 2.5 mile walk around the local area. My fellow walkers – all active or retired firefighters – covered a wide age range, as well as an impressive array of injuries, ailments and post-operative aches; with knees, backs, hips and shoulders the most common reasons for programme participation.

However, not everyone’s reason for referral was physical. As we made our way down a narrow, stonewalled country lane, admiring the Alpine-like scenery around us, I chatted to Adam who told me that he was here following a number of family bereavements. Struggling to come to terms with the impact of his loss, Jubilee House had been recommended to Adam as a place where he could find support, as well as some time to himself.

Upon our return to Jubilee House it was boots off and swimming trunks on, a prospect which – having a frame more Agatha Christie than Linford Christie, and lining up alongside a team of seasoned firefighters – filled me with more than a little trepidation. I needn’t have worried, however, as Exercise Therapist Chris Hodgson put us through our paces with a thoroughly enjoyable and challenging series of movement drills that, at various points, had us drenching each other with water, striding from one side of the pool to the other, balancing floats under our feet and even performing an immaculately executed aqueous barn dance. However bizarre, each exercise was designed to test our movement and balance, using the resistance of the water to do so.

Having dried off and after a light lunch it was back in to the conference room for a talk on sleep with Psychological Therapist, Kerry Hodgkinson. With many beneficiaries reporting problems with their sleep, the fascinating and insightful talk explained the cycle of sleep and explored the reasons why many of us have trouble nodding off at night. From stress to caffeine, screen time to mattresses, Kerry outlined the factors that can affect how we sleep and gave us a wealth of ideas for helping us to ensure we get the hours we need, many of which she has summarised in her Shout! column on page 36. For those of us in the room it provided an opportunity to assess what it is that’s been keeping us awake at night and whether there’s anything we could be doing differently in order to sleep better. For shift workers, Kerry also explained how this can play havoc with your body clock and outlined some steps to help with sleep during the day, even recommending driving home in dark glasses in order to help your body prepare for sleep.

The gym followed soon after, with each member of the group given an individually tailored programme of exercises, dependent on the type and severity of their injury or area of weakness. Everyone on the programme had been assessed by the clinical team at Jubilee House the day before, allowing the physios and exercise therapists the opportunity to review and tailor-make a programme of activities and exercises to best meet the needs of each individual. The result saw a busy gym with, for example, 42-year old Walt throwing a one pound ball against a wall to strengthen the shoulder he had dislocated while 76-year-old Ken skipped across a ladder – with enviable nimbleness – to strengthen the knees he has had replaced.

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Simon and Chris were once again on hand throughout the session to guide each beneficiary through their programme, making use of the full range of equipment available, including bikes, balance boards and Swiss balls, as well as head mounted lasers and a Nintendo Wii. Indeed, Ken once again stepped up to the plate, or rather the Wii balanceboard, this time guiding his computer animated bubble around a twisty river course with ease, a skill I remember failing dismally at in the comfort of my own living room.

In a separate, nearby fitness room a range of familiar looking treadmills, exercise bikes and arm bikes were also joined by a space-age looking new addition. The Anti-Gravity Treadmill – acquired by the charity through the money received from LIBOR – allows users to reduce gravity’s impact on joints by ‘unweighting’ themselves from the treadmill, thus allowing users to exercise while reducing the impact on the joints that can come from traditional exercise. Regrettably not yet up and running, we could but stand back and admire, imagining an experience not dissimilar to that of Messrs Armstrong and Aldrin. One small step for man, one imminent giant leap for rehabilitation.

Most obvious to me during my time in the gym, however, was how focussed and determined each beneficiary was to make the most of the opportunity they had been given. Far from baulking at the thought of pushing or testing themselves in a gym environment, all were chomping at the bit to get stuck in, grateful for the chance to attempt exercises that had been designed specifically for them and keen to see what difference they may make. Also, far from being an individual experience, my fellow programmers supported and light-heartedly goaded each other throughout and, when it came to the Wii, were keen to compete to see who could guide the bubble the furthest. We’d only been together for a matter of hours but the banter was evident and it was clear that everyone was enjoying each other’s company.

A welcome tea break followed the gym before the trunks were once again unpacked for a visit to the hydrotherapy pool. A third of the size of the pool from earlier in the day, the hydro pool was super-heated, ensuring all who entered expelled an involuntary sigh of delight as they sunk into the relaxing waters and allowed tired muscles to relax. Chris – leading the session from the side of the pool – dished out an array of floats and began with a short series of movement and flexibility exercises, before allowing all of us to lie back, supported by said floats, and relax to some calming classical music.

No one wanted to get out. This was heavenly and when Chris did eventually call time I imagined that this must be how my children feel when I pull them out of the bath they’d been enjoying for the past half hour. Thankfully, however, no one threw a tantrum or refused to get dressed.

My day was coming to an end but, if the hydro pool hadn’t been relaxing enough, our final session of the day was one entitled ‘relaxation.’ Held once again in the conference room, we were each given a mat and pillow, the lights were turned off, some pan pipe music played gently in the background and our instructor, Lucy, calmly talked us through a relaxation technique that involved imagining our body getting slowly heavier and warmer. It was, indeed, relaxing and within seconds the technique had worked brilliantly for the person to my immediate left who began snoring with gusto.

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Regardless of the nasal sounds to my side, the session was a wonderfully calming way to end an eye opening, tiring and inspirational day. My own expectations had most certainly been met, my fellow beneficiaries were an incredible, brave, determined and gregarious bunch who were grabbing this opportunity with both hands and embracing all that it threw at them. My colleagues at Jubilee House, meanwhile, were clearly a dedicated, professional, approachable and personable team, capable of putting beneficiaries at ease and encouraging them to get the most out of their experience. Should the need or opportunity arise for you, dear reader, to attend the programme at Jubilee House, or at any of The Fire Fighters Charity’s three centres, I wouldn’t hesitate in taking the chance to do so. I would, however, opt for a lighter breakfast!

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