With Upbeat’s first exercise class over, the buzz of conversation and chink of coffee cups grows and it takes on the feel of a friendly social gathering.
These are the two sides of Upbeat, a charity set up in 1995 to give support to ex-cardiac patients in Suffolk.
It has what might be called the medical side: everyone has their blood pressure checked by a cardiac nurse before they get the OK to join the special exercise class.
Then it becomes a social club, whose value is deceptive because when you talk to members the recurring theme is the importance of simply talking with others in the same boat.
Take 71-year-old Bob Fuller, who lives just up the road from the Newbury Community Centre in Bury St Edmunds where Upbeat meets on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings.
Bob had such severe angina that walking 10 to 15 yards left him in pain.
He went into West Suffolk Hospital for a check up and was sent to Papworth Hospital the same day and given a bypass operation a few days later, on his 65th birthday.
“It was the best birthday present I ever had,” said Bob.
It was followed by the usual six-week rehabilitation course those who have been treated for heart conditions and attacks get at West Suffolk Hospital and then the doctors recommended he join Upbeat.
“Joining Upbeat was the best thing I ever did,” he said. “If you’re down in the dumps, there’s always someone who cheers you up they’re like a big family.
“I had always been a loner and not only did it help me with my health, it helped me to meet people in a similar position to myself.”
He is now a determined fund raiser for Upbeat, which gets no NHS or Government financial support, and, the man who once struggled to walk 10 yards, has walked the Sudbury Fun Run for the past six years to raise money.
But Upbeat also cares for carers.
Vice chairman Peter Maxey, 75, joined after a heart attack and with his wife Ilva, 72, often mans the Upbeat stand at an ‘exhibition’ West Suffolk Hospital holds for cardiac patients to show available services.
Peter explains: “We’re the only outside people invited to that – I can talk as a patient...”
“...And I can talk as a carer,” Ilva adds. “You do watch them all the time.
“When couples walk into that exhibition you know which one is the carer without asking because they look frightened to death.”
Peter added: “The hospital can’t give support to the carer, where we can support both.
“The anxiety carers have is always there. Wives often say ‘I touch my husband at night if I can’t hear him breathing’ – everyone says that.”
Simply knowing everyone says that is one of the little things that boosts confidence, which is an important part of what Upbeat and mixing with others in the same position does.
Upbeat chairman Sylvia Baker explained: “Coming here restores their confidence. When you’ve been fit and strong and something like this happens, it hits your confidence. Every time you feel a twinge you think ‘is it happening again’.”
She points out that members know when they go to Upbeat to exercise it is a programme designed and run by instructors who are members of the British Association of Cardiac Rehabilitation and not only is there always a qualified cardiac nurse there but volunteers have been trained in CPR and using the defibrillators they have on hand.
Exercise instructor Yvonne Galloway, one of five who work with Upbeat, stressed the importance of the right sort of exercise.
“We warm up as a group and cool down as a group,” she said. “We adapt exercises to their limitations, mobility and abilities, though the main thing is making it fun so people want to come back. If they don’t enjoy it, they won’t.”
“It’s got to be safe, effective and fun. If you go to a gym, you’ve got to be sure you’ve got qualified staff there because it might not be safe if you do too much, too quickly.”
Nobody is allowed to exercise until the nurse has checked their blood pressure.
The nurse on duty for our visit was Mandy Scales from WSH’ cardiac care unit, she loves the friendly atmosphere and says it also helps keep track of patients’ day-to-day blood pressure.
“People get ‘white coat tension’ when they go to the doctor, which can increase their blood pressure” she said. “We put it on a card and it often shows that it’s lower here. It’s a more true record of their blood pressure.”
The nurses are also able to help with advice on other things, such as medication, and if they notice any irregularities they can advise patients what to do about it.
But there is a cost to all this. Sylvia reckons they run at about £2,000 loss a week but try to keep a year’s running costs in the bank.
Many local companies are generous towards them and several councillors have given cash from their locality budgets to buy equipment.
But Sylvia said: “Getting grants is difficult because most people want to fund a project with a beginning and an end, where we need continuous funding.”
You can donate to Upbeat and find out more at www.upbeatheartsupport.co.uk or contact Sylvia on 01449 774333.
As well as the Newbury Centre meetings, Upbeat meets at Hardwick Middle School on Friday evenings and Delphi Community Centre, Sudbury, on Friday evenings. It also has a coffee morning and group support, with no nurse of exercise, on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month at the Southgate Centre in Caie Walk, Bury.