LIFE changed dramatically for mother-of-two Mhairi McCran and her family after she was diagnosed with a neurological condition.
They had to move into wheelchair-accessible accommodation in a bid to help Mhairi continue to live as normally as possible.
And husband Mark, who acts as Mhairi’s carer while running his own plumbing business, has to be in constant contact with her to remind her to do the things most people take for granted – like eating.
When the idea of a break came up, the first suggestion was that Mhairi, who is in her forties, could go into respite care – in an old folk’s home. “There was no way she was staying there,” said Mark. “They were all twice Mhairi’s age.”
Then her social worker told her about Leuchie House at North Berwick – just a few miles from the family home in Gullane, where Mhairi and Mark live with their two children, aged 16 and 18.
The 18th-century mansion set in extensive grounds used to be funded by the Multiple Sclerosis Society, but it decided to withdraw support in 2010 and the house faced almost certain closure.
But a determined campaign led by the manager, including a 30,000-signature petition, saved Leuchie, which now operates as an independent charity and offers breaks not just to people with MS, but those affected by a wide range of long-term physical conditions, including Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s, motor neurone disease, cerebral palsy and the effects of stroke and spinal injuries. It is the only place of its kind in Scotland.
Mhairi has been going to the house for regular visits for several years now and describes the breaks as a lifeline for the whole family.
Mark said: “The difference in Mhairi when she comes back from Leuchie is instantly recognisable. You can see she’s so much more relaxed and happy.
“This wasn’t always the case – when she first came for respite she was quite upset because she did not want to admit to herself that she needed it, but now she looks forward to her Leuchie visits and seeing all her friends.”
Mhairi said: “It’s a break for Mark and the children when I come to Leuchie. They get some peace and quiet and Mark’s not having to keep an eye on me all the time.
“Before I came to Leuchie I was not really getting out at all but now I have much more confidence.
“For me, it’s a chance to do things I would not usually try and there’s so much to join in with in terms of entertainment and trips. The staff can’t do enough for you and make you feel really special. It’s a proper holiday when I come to Leuchie – for me and my family. They know they’ll get the new and improved Mhairi when I come back from a stay at Leuchie.”
Tomorrow, a special “Pop-Up Leuchie” event is being staged at Leith’s Ocean Terminal to give a taste of what is on offer at the house.
The pop-up will include nursing staff, physiotherapists, treatments and even some home-baking. There will also be a chance to see a film showing life at Leuchie. Health and social work professionals have been invited, but members of the public are also welcome.
Funding for respite care for people with long-term conditions is often available as part of their care package from the local authority or through self-directed support.
Mairi O’Keefe, the woman who saved Leuchie, said: “This is a great opportunity for us to take Leuchie to the people who might not otherwise realise how we can lighten their load. We will also be able to let people know about our day respite service, where people can come for a day during the week, giving them and their carers a regular break from the day-to-day reality of coping with a long-term condition.”
People come from quite far afield to enjoy breaks at Leuchie, but the house is right on the doorstep for people in Edinburgh and the Lothians. Carers are also welcome to stay if they wish and there is separate accommodation for them to ensure they get a good rest while their loved one is cared for overnight by the expert nursing staff.
Despite the many needs of its guests, Leuchie makes a point of ensuring its ambience is more country house hotel than hospital.
There are three main public rooms, including a drawing room with a log fire, seven single bedrooms and eight twin-bedded.
Guests can go out and about on trips, ranging from pub lunches to a walk along the seafront or popping down to the Seabird centre in North Berwick.
All the food is home-cooked and there is a celebratory dinner party held on the last night of each 11-night break. Leuchie prides itself on its unique mix of activities and outings with 24-hour expert nursing care. There are physiotherapy assessments and exercises tailored to guests’ long-term needs.
And as Mhairi proves, it’s not just for older people who have had their condition for a long time. There are also quite a few who have been recently diagnosed in their 20s and 30s and for whom, like Mhairi, the only alternative respite care available would be a hospital bed or an old folk’s home.
Leuchie will celebrate three years as an independent charity on July 4.
Mairi said: “Evening News readers played a huge part in saving Leuchie from closure and the pop-up is a great opportunity for us to show people the vital respite breaks we are able to offer people and their families now that we’ve expanded the service to include people with a variety of long-term conditions, not just MS.”
• The Pop-Up Leuchie will be held at the Community Rooms, First Floor, Ocean Terminal, on Saturday, from 11am – 4pm.
Three-storey mansion for the sick
THE 18th century grade A-listed Leuchie House is the ancestral home of the Dalrymples of North Berwick.
In 1779, Sir Hew Dalrymple (1712-90) designed and built a new three-storey mansion over the old foundations, with the building work taking six years to complete.
The interior features fine plasterwork by James Nisbet of Edinburgh and three well-carved marble chimney-pieces in the dining room, drawing room and upper drawing room.
The house was unoccupied for more than 50 years, but it was then altered and extended before being re-occupied in 1859.
It was saved from closure after the Multiple Sclerosis Society decided to withdraw support and is now run by the Leuchie House inexpedient charity.
It says its philosophy is that “everyone deserves a decent break, whatever their individual care requirements”.
Staff aim to create a country house feel, rather than a clinical atmosphere, with the emphasis on social as well as health care offering things like physiotherapy and a variety of activities and entertainment. To find out more, contact Leuchie House on 01620 892864 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.