"We’re not lecturing people on how to live, we’re just here to listen and give advice, which seems to be our strength."

Affa Sair are a third sector organisation championing innovative community involvement in the north-east of Scotland, with the key themes of integration being utilised to overcome barriers, incorporate the community, and spark desirable change. The Doric Scots name meaning “awfully sore” reflects the symptoms of chronic pain in the dialect of members based in and around the Grampian region, highlighting the strong community ties that allow the charity to spotlight lived and living experience whilst truly valuing the role of the third sector.

Just over one third (38%) of all adults in Scotland were found to be affected by chronic pain in 2022, with Affa Sair founder and chairman, Chris Bridgeford, utilising his own lived experience of the condition to connect individuals with chronic pain, whilst demonstrating the real power of the third sector in bringing about change.

“You do become so isolated, and the longer it goes on, the more reluctant you are to go out”, Chris says. “But it was quite eye-opening when we set up and suddenly had this huge community coming forward, and what I like about it is that we’re not lecturing people on how to live, we’re just here to listen and give advice, which seems to be our strength.”

Without professional accreditation akin to that of the NHS, gaining the respect of the healthcare sector was one of the main challenges the organisation had to overcome. However, steps have now been taken to provide a new social prescribing scheme, with nine self management activities now offered to individuals referred by three GP practices in the north-east, which recognises the impact and value of the third sector. 

“The star of these nine activities is hydrotherapy sessions at the local hydrotherapy pool we have in Forres, which is an excellent one”, Chris says. “That can be quite pricey for people because they need to undergo physiotherapy inductions, so with the funding we’ve got, we’ll pay for that.”

By putting people at the centre, Affa Sair have been able to effectively represent and reflect the needs of individuals across the chronic pain community, with collaborative working across sectors also playing a key role in this.

“The connection we have with the NHS is in its infancy, but it’s been good”, Chris says. “They came forward very quickly and said they wanted to get involved – they were looking for support in setting up social prescriptions, and so they can now refer people to us to provide chronic pain support.”

As well as the NHS, the organisation work in partnership with local organisations, such as the Moray Arts Centre, who offer practices referred to as ‘crafty art therapy’, which includes rock painting, needle felting, and more, highlighting the innovative approach to overcoming barriers that champions community to achieve integration.

“We offer several activities involving crafts which have been really successful and get a lot of people involved”, Chris says. “It’s made a big difference by creating that wee community, and although Affa Sair is predominantly online, it really is pulling us together in person.”

With the community right at the heart of their work, Affa Sair are keen to partner with local wellbeing groups to offer discounted acupuncture and reiki sessions to their members, whilst continuing to develop their integrated approach to harnessing community involvement when spotlighting lived and living experiences of chronic pain.

“I was always reluctant to move away from the online format, but I can now see the benefits of being together in person”, Chris says. “As more and more people come forward, we’re empowering them to run events and activities by themselves, so that’s been a great thing and I can see that being the way forward.”

You can find out more about Affa Sair on their website here: https://www.affasair.org.

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