Byline: VICKY ROBSON
IT'S a place they can call their own and a service which helps them do more than just survive the cruel hand life has dealt them.
For the hundred or so patients who pass through the doors of palliative care charity Central Palz each week, the organisation is a lifeline they simply couldn't live without.
But running costs are high and urgent funding is needed if the Ashington-based charity is to continue helping to improve the quality of life for people with degenerative diseases and terminal illnesses - and their carers, who live in the surrounding areas.
"We are immensely proud of what we have achieved in the past 12 years since Central Palz was set up and what we are able to provide for patients here today," says operational services manager Liz Harmer.
Described as "the only one of its kind" by its users, the charity offers physical, emotional, mental and social support to people who have been diagnosed with illnesses including cancer, multiple sclerosis and motor neurone disease, living in central Northumberland.
It was set up by GP at Seaton Hirst Primary Care Centre Dr Richard Quimby and Macmillan nurse Phyllis Gordon, who recognised a gap in the care of people living with such serious illnesses.
Liz was initially recruited to get the service up and running and has been working for the charity ever since.
"Social isolation is one of the biggest issues people face when they suffer from a life-limiting illness," she says. "These people are living in a world where they are given bad news and have to have nasty medical treatments all of the time, so when they come here, it's like a safe haven for them.
"We provide an opportunity for both carers and patients to talk to others in a similar situation to themselves, because it's not always the staff who gives them solutions.
"They talk to each other. Even if it's just an informal chat in the social room about the best places to go on holiday for people with disabilities, which hairdressers to go to, or which restaurants are best for wheelchair access. All of these things have a huge impact on their lives.
"Just being able to relax and take time out for themselves increases their feeling of wellbeing and self-esteem and ultimately, their ability to deal with their situation and illness."
Multiple sclerosis sufferer Carol Robinson, 53, visits Central Palz every Thursday ... providing she is well enough.
The neurological condition means Carol has difficulty doing simple everyday tasks like washing the dishes, doing the laundry and grocery shopping.
"I knew something was physically and mentally wrong with me in 2000, but I couldn't explain it," recalls Carol, who lives in Ashington with her husband Robert.
She says: "I started to drop things, I knew my walking wasn't right. I always felt off balance. Then one morning I woke up and as I was talking to my husband, it felt like I was slurring my speech.
"I thought I'd had a stroke. …