The Branch was set up in July 1988 at the instigation of Fergus Rogers, Director of NASS, and Heather Riley, a senior physiotherapist at the Norfolk & Norwich Hospital. About 40 patients, relatives and friends attended the inaugural meeting and it was decided to form the Norfolk & Norwich Branch of NASS.

A Brief History of the Norwich Branch of NASS.

The National Society gave an initial loan of £200 to set up the Branch, which has subsequently been repaid. Initially, Heather held weekly exercise sessions in the Gym at the old Norfolk & Norwich Hospital. Additional meetings to discuss subjects such as diet, massage and relaxation techniques were also held.

Over the years the number of patients increased and other physiotherapists, principally Alison Gibb, became involved and hydrotherapy sessions were introduced. This led during the early 90's to an increase in the pressures on both the staff and facilities in the hospital. At this time a number of factors came together which led to our having to reconsider the operation of the group. These included the hospital having to make financial cut backs, the gym being taken over for offices and increased pressures on the physiotherapists.

In 1995 the branch decided to become a self-help group, which did not use NHS facilities and which was financially independent of the hospital. This was done with the full backing of both Prof. Scott and of Fergus Rogers, with strong links continuing to be maintained with both the Physiotherapy and Rheumatology Departments of the Hospital. We were, and we believe still are, the only NASS Group to be run outside of a hospital and organised entirely by the patients.

This situation has over the years placed a considerable burden on the committee to organise and finance the group activities. It took a long time to find suitable facilities that would enable working members and non-working members to meet together in a central location at a convenient time for all. We chose The Fairways Middle School in Eaton, Norwich, with use of both the pool and the school hall. We paid for the hire of the school facilities but had a subsidy from the local Authority as we were recognised as a Charity, for a lifeguard provided by the school and for the physiotherapist. There was a charge each term, for each member to use the pool and hall facilities. This is kept to a minimum. If a patient has difficulty in making this payment an arrangement is made to cover this. We ran fund raising events to provide special equipment such as floats etc. to be used in the school pool.

To join in the pool sessions a patient must be a member of the National NASS organisation; this provides insurance cover while attending the pool sessions and also access to all NASS facilities including the very informative national NASS magazine. At this time a formal system was set up so that patients who would benefit from participating in our pool sessions could be identified. In general new patients having attended the Rheumatology Department and been diagnosed as having AS are offered the option of attending a course of sessions run by the Rheumatology Physiotherapists. At the end of this induction course they are introduced to the local NASS Self Help Group and offered the opportunity of joining our physiotherapy sessions as a way of managing their disability long term. Clearly the Group needs this support since it is not able to decide of itself which patients would benefit from its activities.

In the summer of the year 2000 the group decided to look for a pool venue offering improved facilities. After much searching we chose a Pool near the centre of Norwich. There were many advantages in choosing this pool. The main one was that we could use the pool for up to 50 weeks of the year, rather than the 30 weeks, which were available to us at Fairways school, if we wanted to. The group decided to have four ten-week sessions each year, and at present we have a group of 30 members who regularly attend sessions. This move to the new pool involved the loss of the LEA subsidy and a significant increase to the cost of the hire of the pool per session. The lifeguard support has been improved, calling on professional lifeguards from the UEA Sportspark, but again with additional cost. However, it is generally thought that the improved facilities justify the move.

In order to keep costs to a minimum our fund raising activities have to be maintained and intensified. The aim of this group is to provide support and a listening ear to newly diagnosed patients, and to provide facilities where members can meet together in an exercise session or at a meeting / discussion and get to know other AS sufferers. We try to provide a friendly atmosphere and enjoyable exercise sessions. We distribute a Newsletter two or three times a year to about 100 A.S. members, many of whom are not active but like to keep in touch. Our members come from all parts of Norfolk and some from Suffolk, and include members from Gt Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Diss. The Newsletter is also sent to all senior members of the Rheumatology Dept. and to all the Physiotherapists involved in our sessions.