Extra Time Hubs with Wigan Athletic Community Trust offers Dennis a new lease of life after Parkinsons diagnosis

For Dennis Heaton, living with Parkinson’s disease has brought a number of challenges.

But six months after becoming involved with Wigan Athletic Community Trust’s Extra Time programme, the retired welder has a new-found confidence which has seen him reach new heights by going rock climbing at the weekly session.

Running through the Wigan Athletic Supporters Project – the initiative aims to tackle social isolation amongst older people including Dennis – who reveals the positive impact it has had on his life.

“Having Parkinson’s disease has curtailed me a little bit”, he said. “It got me down a bit you know, it makes life slower and obviously more difficult and I worry about what people will think.

“But after going to my doctor I was told about the Extra Time programme by Katie – my local Community Link Worker. On my first day I was a bit nervous about meeting new people because you wonder how they’re going to react to you.

“I was made welcome straight away with a cup of tea, a biscuit, a game of dominoes and straight away I just fitted in like a glove.

“It’s really boosted my confidence; I feel a lot better and in fact I love coming. I joke with my family that on a Tuesday I’m going to my youth club.

“There’s always something to do whether that’s a game of pool, or the air hockey, I enjoy the walking football, badminton and I’ve even done rock climbing. There’s always something and there’s always somebody who’ll come and sit with you.

“I look forward to it every week and would say if anyone is thinking of coming then just come, enjoy it and give it a try and you’ll be surprised at how much it can change your life.”

Rock climbing at the session – which runs at Wigan Youth Zone every Tuesday between 1pm-3pm – is one of many activities on offer to members and for Dennis was something he was keen to have a go at.

He added: “I really enjoyed [rock climbing], I didn’t think I could do it, but I just had a go, if you don’t have a go you don’t know, do you?

“I had a go and next think I knew; I was up at the top. I flew up!”

Katie Ramsdale, the Community Link Worker for Wigan Central, who referred Dennis, says it’s wonderful to see the difference in him.

She said: “When I first met Dennis, I realised from meeting him on the first off, that he was quite socially isolated and quite low in mood.

“He had no confidence and he’d isolated himself because of his medical condition that he has. We spoke about social groups that could possibly be good for him to attend which is how he ended up attending and enjoying the Extra Time session.

“The progress he has made since then has been absolutely amazing from him not wanting to go shopping with his wife or wanting to walk the dog.

“Now six months down the line he’s got a new set of friends, he’s climbing the wall and doing loads of activities that he probably thought he was never going to have an opportunity to ever do.

“It’s been wonderful being part of that and seeing that progress.”

In January Dennis was recognised as the Trust’s Communtiy Hero as part of the English Football League Community Weekends. The nationwide celebration recognises the work of football clubs and community trusts in their local communities.