It was back in 1982 that an article appeared in The Sunday Times reporting the work that A.R.M.S. (Action Research into Multiple Sclerosis) were doing in promoting research, in particular the use of Hyperbaric Oxygenation Therapy (HBOT). HBOT delivers high doses of oxygen to the body by the patient breathing pure oxygen through a face mask while they are in a pressurised chamber. Our founder, Don Hawkins, whose wife suffered from MS, spotted the article and contacted ARMS for their help in setting up a treatment centre here in Sussex. Advertisements were placed in the local press and a public meeting held to bring together people with MS from all over Sussex.
A fundraising campaign started and less than 2 years later, in 1984, The South Weald Friends of ARMS (HBO) installed a hyperbaric chamber in an annex of Southlands Hospital in Shoreham. This centre’s objects were to bring together people with MS and provide HBOT, advice, counselling and guidance. Through ARMS a UK network of about 50 similar centres developed bringing the benefits of HBOT to the whole country.
In 1993 ARMS ran into financial difficulties and eventually went into liquidation. To safeguard the centre, The South Weald Friends of ARMS (HBO) was reconstituted as the Sussex Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Centre, an independent registered charity and a company limited by guarantee.
With all this upheaval, the centre suffered another blow as Southlands Hospital wished to redevelop their annex and the centre received notice to quit! Adur District Council came to the rescue and offered a plot of ground in Southwick Recreation Ground at a peppercorn rent. Portacabins were purchased and centre supporters John Roberts JP and architect Alan Mullen oversaw the erection of the buildings and installation of the hyperbaric chamber. No mean feat as the chamber is made from inch thick steel and weighs over 3 ½ tons!
A major refurbishment in 1996/7 brought the building up to modern standards of comfort and more and more people started using the centre.
The centre grew and grew with the introduction of more therapies and classes. We started with a physiotherapist visiting once a week, then came aromatherapy, reflexology, shiatsu, yoga and more! The yoga class was using a small room partitioned off from the main building with folding doors. The class became so popular that the doors had to be kept open so that the yogis could overflow into the café area. Enough was enough and a new fundraising campaign was launched to finance the building of an annex. This was completed in 2007 with the new annex opened by Tim Loughton MP. This part of the Centre is now used for our regular classes (yoga/pilates/voicework/keep fit/physio-gym), for workshops and frequent social events.
The Centre now has a membership of over 700 people and we regularly see 150 to 200 people every week coming along for treatments, group activities or just to have a cup of coffee with friends.
In May 2016 the Centre officially changed its name to Sussex MS Centre to more accurately reflect the wide range of activities that go on at the Centre.
Thank you too to all our volunteers, therapists, chamber operators, committee members and to everyone who has given their time, energy and/or money to make the Sussex MS Centre into such a great community.