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PUBLISHED: 15:41 18 May 2015 | UPDATED: 15:41 18 May 2015

EXG JUN 15 Headway

EXG JUN 15 Headway

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Headway Essex marks 30 years of providing care and support to adults with acquired brain injury and their families and carers in Essex. Here Essex Life looks back at how this charity has flourished over three decades

From its humble beginnings in Colchester, Headway Essex has grown into a county-wide charity supporting survivors of brain injury and their families and carers, and this year it is celebrating its 30th anniversary.

The effects of a brain injury can be long-lasting and permanent, and affect not only the person with the brain injury but the whole family. Once discharged from hospital there is little support in the community for survivors of brain injury and their families who are left to cope with the devastating and lasting effects of the brain injury and the impact it has on their lives.

Initially called Colchester and North East Essex Headway, the charity started in 1987 as a monthly support group meeting run by an occupational therapist and volunteers in the old St Mary’s Hospital in Colchester.

Two years later the charity leased a small bungalow in Colchester from the local health authority and the Headway House Day Service opened two days per week, run by a part-time co-ordinator and volunteers. Over the years it has grown to meet the needs of survivors of brain injury and their families.

Headway is unrecognisable now as with a rise in profile, came the demand for services and to meet this demand in 2000 it changed its name from Colchester and North East Essex Headway to Headway Essex and launched a county-wide Community Support Service in 2001, supporting adults with acquired brain injury and their carers across Essex.

Today the charity employs 18 full-time staff and more than 50 volunteers while supporting over 500 people in Essex every year. Headway House in Colchester was extended with grant funding and is now double its original size. It is now open five days a week encouraging a progressive transition back into community living through social, physical and educational activities within the centre and in the community.

The Community Support Service provides a helpline, home and hospital visits, brain injury education, support and advice across Essex and runs support groups in Colchester, Chelmsford, Basildon and Benfleet. This year it will be starting a new support group in west Essex.

The charity is reliant on fundraising to provide its service and has aspirations to provide more day centres in other areas of Essex. This can only be achieved through the support of the public and grant making organisations. This year the charity will be holding a spectacular 30th Anniversary Pearl Ball at Stock Brook Manor in Billericay on June 19 and the hope is that it will be well supported by the Essex community.

It is a small charity with a big attitude and a great reputation. In 2006 Headway Essex was involved with the making of Recovery, a 90-minute BBC drama on the impact brain injury has on a family. Headway Essex hosted visits from researchers, the writer Tony Marchant, film director Andy de Emmoney and actor David Tennant, who as a result became patron of Headway Essex.

David’s character portrayed the true impact of brain injury which is far from the normal TV interpretation where people seem to recover fully in a short space of time. The reality of brain injury is somewhat different.

About brain injury

A Brain Injury is anything that results in damage to living brain tissue. It can be caused by trauma — something as simple as a domestic fall or a bang on the head to major trauma such as road accidents. It can also be caused by non-traumatic injuries such as brain haemorrhages, tumours, infections and strokes.

The brain is the control centre for the human body and controls metabolism, breathing, heart rate, body movements, personality and much more. Even just mild injury could harm the brain’s ability to function. The affects can be as severe as total physical disability to issues with concentration, impaired memory and speech. It can be that the public give very little concession to people with a brain injury, because many of the disabilities are hidden.

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