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Journal 9 March 2020

Changing lives at the Dumfries House Wellbeing Centre

With complementary therapies and a beautiful rural setting, the new centre is already making a real difference

It’s been just over a year since Dumfries House’s state-of-the-art Health and Wellbeing Centre opened its doors to the public, and the new facility has wasted no time in helping those that need it most.

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Located in the beautiful Ayrshire countryside, the purpose-built space was designed to rapidly expand the estate’s Integrated Health and Wellbeing Programme, run by The Prince’s Foundation - and it’s certainly paid off. “In its first year, the centre has welcomed more than 200 participants - an increase of more than 40 per cent,” confirms Shiona Johnston, Dumfries House Health and Wellbeing Coordinator.

Offering a 360-degree approach to wellness, the centre has been running five key programmes - women’s health, fertility, fibromyalgia and chronic pain, mindfulness, and diabetes and obesity - with participants being referred by primary and tertiary care providers. The care doesn’t stop at the end of the course, either; follow-up wellbeing workshops run throughout the year for those who have taken part.

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The results speak for themselves. Since enrolling in the Fit for Fertility programme, Leanne and her husband are about to start IVF. “The atmosphere in the group was very supportive,” says Leanne. “I found being able to talk about our situation with others who are going through similar experiences very useful.” The course is designed for those planning a pregnancy, including couples who are going through or waiting for fertility treatments. “We both gained a deeper understanding of assisted conception methods,” continues Leanne. “This helped us to feel more relaxed about the process, which we previously knew very little about.”

Mixing with others after feeling isolated and suicidal was also a key turning point for Sian*, who had lost her job after suffering with depression and chronic pain. “I have recommended it to so many people already, it changes lives,” Sian tells us. “They built my confidence back up and really showed me that I could achieve things. I am now back out working, and I am fitter than I was before.”

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The success stories have continued all year round - something that Dr Angelina Panico, who has referred patients to the scheme, can testify to. “My patients have all come to me with stories from the kitchens, the gardens and the grounds, and the enjoyment is apparent,” Dr Panico tells us. “They have thrilled in telling me how they mastered an ‘obstacle course’ or proudly shown the group how to get the most out of a whole chicken! They feel empowered.”

The welcoming and serene setting has certainly played a part in giving patients what they need. Sylvia, a participant in the mindfulness course, describes Dumfries House as a ‘safe haven’, while Jeanette, an attendee of the women’s health course, says the atmosphere was ‘like a lovely blanket that you cuddled into’.

“It was a life saver for me,” admits Jeanette. “I came away with the tools and the confidence to deal with the menopause for however long it lasts.”

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In fact, the women’s health and menopause programme was a real hit in the first year, and is a perfect example of how the holistic and medical practices entwine. As Jackie, who also took the course, explains, “The group was a haven of calm, evidence-based support. We moaned a little, cried a little, had a lot of fun, blew off steam and generally felt better at the end.”

Fellow attendee Ros also benefited from the rounded approach to manage her symptoms. “The discussions around sleep, anxiety and how to deal with the resulting issues were most helpful. My meeting with Mr Dooley, Consultant Gynaecologist, made me realise I needed to up my dose of HRT and allayed any fears I had. I am on a stronger dose of HRT, I have cut back on caffeine and have made 'clean' sleep a priority.”

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It’s not only referred participants who are benefitting from this unique space; plenty of events run throughout the year to help the wider community. From tea dances to living well with cancer courses and even suicide prevention training, it’s a source of support for the wider public. It will also be hosting its first fertility conference this summer, with 60 couples expected to attend for an interactive day of workshops.

“It is important to us to work with both statutory organisations and local charities so we can enhance the whole experience, and not waste resources trying to compete with each other,” says Carolyn Paton, Dumfries House Health and Wellbeing Coordinator. “We all provide a unique approach, and these complement each other to the greater outcome of the health and wellbeing of the whole person – mind, body and spirit.”

So what’s next for the centre? Additional programmes and workshops are on the way, and with such promising results already it’s no wonder. Watch this space.

*Some names have been changed

In recognition of Dr Gabriel and Mrs Christine Chiu's support of The Prince's Foundation, these programmes are known as "The Prince’s Foundation Chiu Health and Wellness Programmes"

Words: Judy Johnson

Images: Lisa Boyd

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