Thirty years of tackling epilepsy in Hartlepool

Jill Kitching with Jacqui Gettings.
Jill Kitching with Jacqui Gettings.

Anniversary celebrations have been enjoyed by a Hartlepool group - but there’s a serious side to the milestone.

It’s 30 years since Jill Duke began the mammoth task of putting epilepsy in the public spotlight in town.

Thumbs-up from Marie Fleetham at the 30th birthday party of Epilepsy Outlook. Also pictured are Jill Kitching, formerly Duke, with husband Bill.

Thumbs-up from Marie Fleetham at the 30th birthday party of Epilepsy Outlook. Also pictured are Jill Kitching, formerly Duke, with husband Bill.

She formed Epilepsy Outlook and now it’s a much bigger organisation which helps hundreds of people every year.

The Park Road-based group now runs three shops, holds weekly art and craft sessions attended by more than 70 people a week, and has put 250 people through awareness training in the last year alone.

Gone are the days when the only support came in books from the town’s libraries, said the group’s operations manager Jacqui Gettings.

Jacqui added: “Today, 25% of our 80 volunteers have epilepsy and have found a real purpose to their day by helping in their community. Keeping busy and feeling less stressed can also help reduce seizures.”

Back then, you couldn’t look for epilepsy in a search engine. If you wanted information, you had to go to the library. Today 25 percent of our 80 volunteers have epilepsy and have found a real purpose to their day by helping in their community

Jacqui Gettings

The charity has also reached numerous milestones:

It donated 11 bed alarms worth £350 each in 2017. The alarms alert parents if their child is having a seizure;

It funded five smart watches which are worn by someone with epilepsy. The watches alert families and carers that a person is having a seizure, and can also alert where they are through GPS data;

250 people have gone through free epilepsy awareness training.

Jill Kitching, formerly Duke, receives the accolade of Freedom of the Borough of Hartlepool.

Jill Kitching, formerly Duke, receives the accolade of Freedom of the Borough of Hartlepool.

It was also a great year for founder Jill. Last May. she was awarded the accolade of Freeman of the Borough of Hartlepool.

But there’s no resting on laurels, Jacqui added: “I hope that the generous people of Hartlepool will keep supporting us by donating their unwanted items to sell and by calling - in to pick up a bargain at one of the charity shops.”

Jill herself told the Mail: “My proudest achievements have been my three children and starting the charity. I’m so happy that Epilepsy Outlook has continued to successfully serve all who come to us for help, information and support.

“We have a strong volunteer force in the office and shops, they are essential to the organisation’s success. We are very grateful to them for giving their time and energy to make everything work so well.

An art class under way at Epilepsy Outlook.

An art class under way at Epilepsy Outlook.

“Our biggest asset in what we do is my daughter and manager Jacqui Gettings. She has raised the profile of the charity and is dedicated to helping people with epilepsy.”

Epilepsy Outlook’s weekly events programme includes;

Mondays - A drop-in session for people with uncontrolled epilepsy - from noon to 4pm at the group’s Park Road base.

Tuesdays - An art class which is open to all from 9.30am to 1.30pm.

Wednesday - A free craft, tea and biscuits group for women from 11am to 2pm.

Thursdays - Card-making classes from 1pm to 4pm. The cards which are made are sold in the Epilepsy Outlook shop.

Thursdays - An art class from 7pm to 9pm. It costs £5.

Fridays - An art class which is open to all from 9.30am to 1.30pm.

People can donate items to the group at its Park Road, York Road and Oxford Road shops. Both the Park and York Road shops take furniture.

To make a donation, contact (01429) 297008.