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Robert & Herbie

Robert Atkinson and Herbie Rennie attend an Age NI Day Centre in Belfast.

They became the best of friends after meeting at a support group for people dealing with the consequences of a stroke. They are the Morecambe and Wise of the day centre, bringing sunshine, laughter and general mischief to every gathering! They love nothing more than a bit of banter with staff and clients but it hasn’t always been that way.

Herbie and Robert have both experienced the lows that isolation and loneliness can bring. It’s hard to believe that just a few years ago Herbie ‘didn’t want to walk out the front door’ as a result of depression, or that Robert was experiencing ‘soul-destroying loneliness’ in hospital, and having to learn to walk again. Yet, not only are Robert and Herbie now great friends and regular day centre attendees, they are both involved in local groups and activities for people in later life to ensure that the voice of older people is heard loud and clear.

Robert and Herbie agree that there is nothing worse than feeling isolated and alone, and that regaining confidence has a huge part to play in becoming reconnected with family, friends and society again.

‘Robert and I have both dealt with some life-changing events over the years’, says Herbie. ‘At one point, I thought I’d lost everything. But I came through it. It’s about people encouraging you to come out of yourself. Of course, it depends a lot on the individual too but we all need someone to help us along.’

Herbie encouraged Robert to start attending the day centre, and they have both since encouraged many others to do so. Age NI Day Centre Manager, Wendy McKillion says that the centre is just like ‘one big family’ where everyone enjoys each other’s company and there’s always someone to talk to or some who will listen to you.

‘We have clients who are referred to the centre who have nobody and don’t see anyone from one week to the next. The opportunity to come here, catch up with friends, take part in activities and have a bite to eat is priceless for many’, says Wendy.

Herbie was a keen snooker player, and Robert a keen bowler but experiencing a stroke had a huge impact on both their social lives. ‘I lived for bowls’, says Robert. ‘But I couldn’t play after the stroke. It was difficult to take in. Losing your hobby like that can be devastating – it affects your routine, your social circle and your confidence. That’s why it’s so important to take on other interests, no matter how big or small, to get your focus and confidence back. Having interests and hobbies keeps you active and involved.’

Watching Robert and Herbie, it’s clear to see the depth of their friendship. They have such strong camaraderie and share the same goal - to make life better for others. ‘If we are sitting in a group of people and Robert and I have made them laugh, then that makes our day’, says Herbie.

‘Agreed’, nods Robert, ‘and if we can encourage people to get out and about and get involved, then we have achieved something. If we can do it, anyone can.’

With the charity’s help, I realised I was not alone. One phone call changed my life.

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