Wendy and Jo at the cake sale in Consett


Written by James Barton

Joining the Dots, a free support service for people aged 18 and over living with and affected by cancer in County Durham, has held a series of Macmillan World’s Biggest Coffee Mornings.

As well as raising desperately needed funds for the national cancer charity, these coffee mornings also present the first real opportunity for the guidance and support service to reach out in a safe face to face environment since Covid-19 meant many of County Durham’s most vulnerable people  had to rely solely on support via online and telephone contact.

The coffee morning were held at community hub Glenroyd House in Consett, County Durham, Fishburn Youth and Community Centre, in Fishburn, County Durham, St Catherine’s in Crook in County Durham and the Pioneering Care Partnership (PCP) Centre in Newton Aycliffe, in County Durham.

Claire Welsh, Paula Spark, Chloe Shaw and Sonia Reay are facilitators covering different areas in County Durham for Joining the Dots, a free service funded by County Durham CCG, commissioned by Durham County Council in partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support and delivered by Wellbeing For Life.

Working for Joining the Dots since 2018, Claire covers the North Durham area, lives in Consett and formerly worked as a healthcare assistant in the Gynaecology Colposcopy diagnostics team at County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust.

She said: “In the year before lockdown we held a very successful Macmillan Coffee Morning and we just thought it would be a wonderful opportunity once the restrictions allowed for people to see each other safely face to face.

“Many of the people we help have been incredibly isolated in a predominantly rural area and we have had to provide a screen and telephone service only due to the restrictions and the very vulnerable nature of the people we support.

“We had a number of people come to the coffee morning in Consett who received our help recently which was wonderful to see and we also experienced a lot of generosity from the wider community with many donating cakes and other small items we were able to offer in a raffle.

“In fact we were donated so many cakes that my husband and I were able to open a stall on our drive at home immediately following the coffee morning and sell cakes to our neighbours which really helped toward the total.”

Referrals for Joining the Dots service can come from GPs, healthcare teams such as the Macmillan clinical nurse specialists, and people can refer themselves.

Two PCSOs at the cake sale organised by Joining the Dots

“Each person is assessed according to their specific need using an holistic needs assessment. We are never involved in doing anything clinical its more about flagging key issues including practical and mental wellbeing and offering informed guidance and support at a time when people are often in their moment of greatest need. This includes every aspect of someone’s life including financial and we can point people in the direction of welfare benefits advisors, offer guidance in applying for Macmillan Grants anything in fact that could be impacted by a cancer diagnosis.”

From Lanchester, County Durham, Susan Turner is 69 years old and has been through a tumultuous 18 months that began with a breast cancer diagnosis at the start of the pandemic, she has been supported over the last 12 months by Claire Welsh.

In March last year she noticed a lump in her breast which was soon diagnosed as operable early stage breast cancer; in normal circumstances she would’ve been scheduled for surgery within a matter of a couple of weeks. As a result of the first lockdown she had her operation delayed until September.

She said: “The results of my biopsy came back within a few days in April 2020 but of course the fear of the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic had struck and what would’ve been an operation two weeks later became an operation five months later.

“It was terrifying being in the house for weeks and months not knowing how the cancer had progressed. It was like living in a vacuum, I could hardly breathe with worry. Its been tough for everyone but with a cancer diagnosis and the worry associated with a delayed operation it was brutal. If it it had not been for Claire and our weekly catch ups I don’t know what I would’ve done.

“She has been my rock and although I haven’t often taken her up on her offer to call, outside our weekly catchups, whenever I needed her it’s been a huge comfort to know I can and how consistently reliable she has been.

“More recently she found me a small support group near my home that has offered an opportunity for safe face to face contact; such a relief after all the months of lockdown isolation I’ve and many others in this rural area have endured.”

Susan lives with co-morbidities that have meant prior to diagnosis she used a wheelchair and following the strain of her cancer journey on her body she has been diagnosed type 2 diabetic which meant her wounds from surgery took months not days to heal. In addition, this meant treatments such as radiography and chemotherapy have been unavailable to her. Despite this Susan is has made good progress and the prognosis in terms of the cancer is good.

To contact Joining the Dots call 0800 8766887 or visit this link.

Anyone in need of cancer support can call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00, which is open 7 days a week, 8am-8pm, or visit Macmillan’s Online Community on this link.

If you’d like to support Macmillan but need some advice on where to get started or what you can do within the current government guidelines, please do get in touch with the Macmillan Supporter Care Hub by emailing [email protected] or calling 0300 1000 200.


One of the Joining the Dots Facilitators has shared this lovely example of the fantastic generosity shown by Glenroyd House Community Pantry, Consett. http://glenroydhouse.co.uk/

“I am supporting a couple in the community, due to medical reasons they were unable to get to shops for groceries in town where they find it cheaper. They had used their local shop for essentials and this proved very expensive, this impacted on them financially.

I asked for support from the Community Pantry based within Glenroyd House and they supplied a food parcel for two people, this was greatly received and the couple were overwhelmed by their kindness. They were very grateful for the support from Macmillan Joining the Dots as we were able to facilitate and deliver to their door.

Thank you Glenroyd House Community Pantry, I can’t believe how much is here!”

Macmillan Joining the Dots County Durham is a free service for people aged 18 and over who have been diagnosed with cancer. They also support friends, carers and relatives of any age. The friendly team can support you with many issues and even if you think you don’t need help and support right now, will listen to you and make sure that you have the right information and support when you need it.

Macmillan Joining the Dots County Durham is a partnership between Durham County Council and Macmillan, and delivered by Wellbeing for Life.

In July, Claire Welsh, Macmillan Joining the Dots Facilitator for the Derwent Valley AAP area, was supporting David Costello and his long-term partner Janet in the community. David asked Claire whether she could help him look into arranging a wedding ceremony, so he could marry Janet. Due to David’s illness this would need to take place at home.

Claire made this happen in a short space of time. She involved Wellbeing for Life and Honey Rose Foundation, who provided support with funding grants so that David and Janet’s day could be extra special. Claire also had fantastic support from the community who all pulled together to give them a day to remember: Novo Jewellers, Flower Style, Sara’s Kitchen, Lanchester Bridal and local photographer Clive Crumpton.

Sadly David passed away, however not before he could say his vows to Janet and they became husband and wife. After the ceremony Janet told Claire that “It wouldn’t have happened without you.”


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