A Beeston woman who has a debilitating illness which left her housebound for most of her late teens has turned her life around and has set up a community group that helps people facing social isolation and other local issues with support from Nottinghamshire County Council.
Gina Harbottle, 23, was diagnosed with Functional Neurological Disease at the age of 16 which meant she often needed to use a wheelchair until the age 20 due to weakened muscles.
Gina started to volunteer in her local area last year following support from the Council’s Age Friendly scheme, a pilot project covering Beeston and Mansfield which aims to open up opportunities for people experiencing isolation.
Initially, Gina worked with a new group called Beeston Community Action Project (BCAP), a group of volunteers developing social activities for residents in the community.
She helped to organise and carry out activities and events for a number of Beeston venues with BCAP, including an independent living complex known as Yew Tree Court.
However, she decided to concentrate her time to support those with severe mobility restrictions and other reasons for isolation through her own group called Good Vibes with the Age Friendly team.
She has inspired a growing number of volunteers to work together to support people in their local community, including visiting people experiencing loneliness in their own home, supporting them to venture out and getting them involved in local activities.
Gina said: “Voluntary work dug me out of a hole and has made me bounce back from a bleak period of being stuck at home with no sense of purpose. However, that dark period has given me a unique perspective and the urge to help others in a similar situation.
“Good Vibes is about spreading smiles, stopping isolation and giving both volunteers and clients the confidence to venture out and try new things and we focus on people who have slipped through the gaps.
“Age Friendly has been brilliant in encouraging the local community and getting everyone to work together and they have given me the support and confidence to do this as well as providing the training and know-how to make things happen.
“Becoming active in my community has helped me both mentally and physically and I now feel I have a purpose.
“I think you can do anything if you put your mind to it and I hope my experience inspires confidence in others to follow in my footsteps.”
Councillor Gordon Wheeler, Vice-Chairman of Nottinghamshire County Council’s Communities and Place Committee, said: “Gina’s story is very inspiring and shows the positive impact of volunteering not just on the local community but also on the volunteer.
“Gina has gained strength from the challenges she has experienced which has spurred her on to help others. It’s great to hear that our Age Friendly project has helped to develop her skills to enable her to set up her own good neighbour scheme.”
The Council organised training sessions with volunteers in the Beeston area to develop their skills in supporting the wider community to get involved local projects and events to reduce loneliness. Attendees were also given awards by the Council in recognition of their hard work and dedication.
It was estimated that there were 53,000 older people living alone in Nottinghamshire in 2011 which is expected to rise to 74,000 by 2025, amounting to a forty percent increase.
‘Age Friendly’ coordinators have been listening to and working closely with residents and volunteers to support them to set up projects for people at risk of loneliness to meet other people, improve self-confidence and find a renewed sense of confidence.
Photo: Yew Tree resident Rob Hayler, Age Friendly’s Rob Bryant, resident Hilda Smith and Gina.