Mutual Support Coordinating Team
Mr Stuart Nixon MBE
After starting his career as a nurse, Stuart now works part-time in General Management at the Aneurin Bevan University Health board, Newport Wales.
Stuart has lived with MS for over 30 years and has used a wheelchair for 15 of, but this is not the whole story. He is now an Ambassador of the MS Society, having been Vice Chair, Trustee and a volunteer for over 20 years.
As Co-chair of the MSS Research Strategy Committee Stuart is committed to the development of research. To prove this, in 2013 Stuart completed a 60km Challenge around London called‘StuStepsUp’ raising over £74,000 for Research into MS.
At the 2013 MS Awards Stuart was presented with the MSS Life-time Achievement Award for his work with, and commitment to, the MS Community and in the 2014 New Year’s Honours Stuart received an MBE for ‘Services to People with MS’.
Stuart would describe himself as “the luckiest man he knows”, and this comes from being married to Marie and having two great sons Sean and Killian.
I am an Army veteran of 8 years, I developed MS during my service in about 1987. The subsequent years have had their ups and downs. I qualified as a Social Worker and worked for Suffolk County Council in children’s services for 20 years, 15 of which were as a Team Manager, Corporate Diversity Manager and Professional Adviser. In 2005 I joined the MS Society as Chair of the East Anglia Region and continued that into representing the region for a total of 7-8 years on the England Council. I joined Mutual Support roughly 5 years ago and for the first time I felt connected to my military service alongside people who knew about the daily trials of MS and the intricacies of Pensions and Benefits along with living life to the full. I retired as a Social Worker on medical grounds four years ago and I now travel, sail, socialise and explore the US on the back of a Harley Davidson! I took up the opportunity to co-chair Mutual Support with Stuart because I believe I have the knowledge, skills and experience to make a positive difference leading a National Support Group that is close to my heart
Suzanne Crighton – Deputy Group Coordinator
I was diagnosed with MS whilst serving at RAFC Cranwell as an instructor in 1991. My diagnosis was as much a shock to me as it is to anyone, but meeting Kim Bartlett only days after my diagnosis was of enormous help to me; I had never met anyone else with MS. Kim and Sue Smith had formed a self-help group for Service personnel with MS and I tried to turn my diagnosis into something positive by joining forces with them to help get Mutual Support off the ground.
I have filled numerous roles over the years on the Committee including Welfare Officer, Events Organiser, Benefits Advisor, Deputy Chairman and Chairman from 2010 to 2017. I am passionate about Mutual Support and very proud to be part of a group that makes such a difference to so many people’s lives. I hope that by sharing the knowledge and experience I have gained about MS and the military over the last 20 years, I can help make the lives of our members that bit easier, so that they can live as fulfilling and positive a life as possible, despite this pernicious disease.
I am now delighted to support the new Group Coordinators settle into their new roles.
Julie Russell – Administration Volunteer
I’ve been married to Jack for 28 years and we have two clever and amazing daughters, I was diagnosed with MS back in 1998, whilst living in Scotland, four months after having my second child. This was five years after my first symptoms. My consultant at the time said, quite dismissively, “If I need to give it a name, I’ll say you have mild MS.” Is there such a thing? He then turned to my husband Jack and said, “So you’re in the Navy, what do you do?” Not the best introduction to the NHS handling of the newly diagnosed! So after being sledgehammered, we left for a lovely anniversary meal in the hospital canteen. He still knows how to spoil a girl.
To be honest, I felt relieved at finally getting a diagnosis. In the early days I had been told that I had a shadow on my brain. Of course, me being me, I planned what I thought were my remaining days, organising who would look after my children and who on Earth would be brave enough to marry Jack in the event of my death from… a brain tumour! Luckily, I was wrong and I ended up in this smashing club. I won’t lie and say I wasn’t scared and didn’t wake up in the night thinking, ‘I’ve got MS’, initially it was all consuming, but my symptoms were few and far between and eventually I locked my diagnosis away in a cupboard behind me and lived in denial for many years. Then we moved to sunny Formby and my whole settled snow globe was turned upside down after my GP questioned my MS status. So there I was again, the girl with the label and subsequent tests and scans confirmed that yes, indeed I was a fully paid up member to the MS club. I began volunteering for my local MS Society-Sefton Branch and became their Lead Support, a challenging but rewarding role that I performed for 3+ years. After a brief break from volunteering, I agreed to give something back to this amazing group, and I became Secretary. I had found Mutual Support some years earlier, a group on an MS forum. I was confused and looking for answers and was very cynical as how an Armed Forces group could be any different from the input I’d had so far from MS professionals! How wrong can anyone be? Mutual Support is my MS family and has helped both Jack and myself to come to terms with living with MS and we’ve made great friends along the way.
Al Healy – Finance Volunteer
Well, time to tell you a wee bit about myself I suppose, having just taken on the role of Treasurer for Mutual Support. I am 40 years old and have been serving as a Regular with the Royal Air Force for over 16 years. Prior to signing on the dotted line I had a few jobs in Liverpool, the last one being a Civil Servant with the MoD, a place that payed all the bills for the Forces – so I thought it was fitting to jump the fence and see how life was on the other side. I am currently a Corporal and working at RAF Fylingdales, North Yorkshire. My trade background is Aerospace Systems Operator, effectively working as a RADAR Operator and part of the bigger Air Defence world. I have had numerous tours in my 16 years, Scotland, England, Falklands, England, Falklands, England, Falklands…( I’m sure you get the pattern). My current job is rather unique in the fact it is the world of ballistic missiles and space object tracking – slightly out of the norm from your air defence radars. Family life, we are currently living in Borehamwood but looking at moving North in the next few months, closer to my more natural Liverpool surroundings. The “we” bit is my small family of Wendy, a nurse with the NHS, and our 3 sons, Nathan (9), Connor (6) and Zak (4 – going on 40). They are more than enough to keep our days occupied in one way or another. Outside of work I enjoy keeping fit by way of distance running, as the picture may suggest. I have completed several marathons over the past few years and numerous half marathons and other runs. I find it keeps me on the straight and narrow. Being truly Scouse I was also raised on a diet of bread, water and football. Everton, however, can prove rather frustrating to follow but I persevere and also carry the guilt of inflicting this on my children, ha. I attempt to play acoustic guitar (for self-pleasure) in my spare time and my musical tastes are very, very varied, from the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Creedence Clearwater, U2, Oasis and even the guilty pleasure of my wife’s Take That and MJ collections, but I keep that to myself!!! In terms of MS, I have no direct link to this terrible illness. I ran a marathon in May 2016 and decided to raise money for Mutual Support, a Charity I was aware of from all the hard work my Warrant Officer (Si Grundy) was heavily involved with. It was on the back of this that I realised what a fantastically run charity this is and was only glad to offer my services when the Deputy Treasurer, becoming Treasurer, role was to become vacant. I am hard working and feel that if I can do something that can make a positive difference to the lives of others, no matter how small, then I will do it and give it my best shot. I look forward to putting faces to names down the line and helping the group run smoothly with my/our involvement.
Tom Mills – Fundraising Volunteer
“I have been in the Army just shy of 12 years following a brief period of hospitality jobs having left school. I was diagnosed with MS in 2014 and in my naivety, I thought my world was about to end. Thankfully, due to the guidance and support provided by Mutual Support and others with MS in the military community, I soon realized I could still live a full and meaningful life. I joined Mutual Support soon after diagnosis and they have been a guiding light ever since. Wanting to help where I could I volunteered to join the committee last year and have assumed the role of Fundraising Volunteer since Nov 2017. I am just finishing off a BSc(Hons) Intelligence and Security which is something I will be looking to pursue when I leave Her Majesty’s employ.
I have already worked with many exceptional individuals who have helped raise admirable sums of money for the group and I look forward to working with many more in the future to help the group provide the much-needed support it gives.”
Graham Duncan – Membership Volunteer
I joined the RAF in 1973 and left after 38 years’ service in 2011 in the Telecommunications trade. When I completed trade training I was called a Telegraphist, a name people would recognise instantly as something to do with telecommunications. New hierarchy over the years changed the name of my trade to TCC (TeleCommunications Controller) a new name for basically the same job but more of a mouthful. Finally the military got rid of good old Morse code and renamed the trade and I became a CISM (Communications Information Systems Manager). Blimey what a mouthful and it didn’t have the snappy explanatory name of Telegraphist. Same as the Membership Volunteer is an inferior appellation for the Membership Secretary. The term Volunteer is redundant, as we are all volunteers.
I joined Mutual Support in the Autumn of 2006 when my wife, Angie was diagnosed with MS. We attended our first meeting in the May the following year. At that meeting, the Chairman asked for volunteers as Events Manager and having discussed it with Angie I decided to volunteer for the job. I completed about two years in the role before I had to stand down as I was due to be posted to Afghanistan for a six month deployment. By this time, Angie’s MS had deteriorated and at the 11th hour the RAF deployed someone else instead. I then volunteered as Secretary which I did for six years. However, Angie’s MS and deteriorating mobility meant that I couldn’t attend meetings held too far away. I was looking for someone to replace me and my very good friend Julie volunteered.
Now left with time on my hands, when the Chair asked me if I could take on the role of Membership Secretary, I agreed from the Spring of 2016. This year my responsibilities have also included being the Facebook page Admin and Moderator, Mail Chimp Administrator and our Web Page Administrator. I rely on STCs or members to keep contact details current. All in all, this is a job I enjoy doing for the benefit of our members and am happy to continue to errrm, volunteer.
Guy Mortenson – Events manager
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Tracey MacKenzie – Deputy Events Volunteer
I served in the Women’s Royal Naval Service for eight years and left in 1986, before women served on ships. The longest time I spent at sea was three weeks sailing in the Gulf of Mexico with the Army Air Corps, but that’s another story! I started a property management company upon leaving the WRNS. Selling the business thirteen years later enabled me to travel around Central America and complete a BA in English and Media at Sussex University. I spent a term abroad studying at the University of Vermont in the USA where I was able to indulge in another passion, skiing.
I moved to Suffolk after graduating and was diagnosed with RRMS in July 2015 after a couple of stressful years caring for my partner’s father full time, prior to him moving into full time residential care, and also helping run a business. The relationship with my partner ended later that year. I felt completely isolated and truly believed my active life was over until I discovered Mutual Support in January 2016.
I cried my way through the first phone call I received from Hilary Winstanley and gabbled incoherently over Nikki Young, who kindly arranged to meet me soon after I became a member. Suddenly I was not alone, and the service family I had left 30 years ago was there to welcome me back and support me, albeit in a different guise. Mutual Support has shown me that a diagnosis can open doors to making new friends, to new experiences and also offers amazing support to members when they need it most. The respite weekends are a pivotal part of this and I am very happy to be part of the team providing them.
Liz Abrahams – Communications (Newsletter) Volunteer
Neil and I were introduced to Mutual Support in 2014, after a former Naval colleague advised Neil of the charity. Prior to this, we regularly attended a local MS Society group. The group was great from a socialising aspect, but we felt that it didn’t really satisfy our thirst for more knowledge on MS.
Hilary Winstanley – Lead-Support-Volunteer
I became involved with Mutual Support after my husband Bob was diagnosed with MS in 2007. He had served in the RAF for 22 years, and I was proud to be a Service wife, with all the demands it can make on family life and my career. Having planned to go into medicine, failing a crucial A level I ended up in the civil service until we were posted to Germany. I worked for NAAFI until our twins were born in 1986.
Whilst Bob was still in the RAF we bought our first house in a Lincolnshire village and I threw myself into village life and amongst other things joined the Parish Council. If you think Service life is frustrating, try being a parish council chairman for 3 years!
I am passionate about Mutual Support’s role in the Service community and after a brief spell as a Service contact, took over from Heather Smith as Support Team Manager. The Team has undergone training and we have undergone some strategic changes in the membership introduction procedures. All new members are automatically helped with benefit and pension matters and through the recent review many of our longer standing members are receiving the same advice.
The team constantly strive to offer the best information possible and are an indispensable part of Mutual Support. If you would like to join us or know more about the care we give, please contact me.
Mark Paterson – Support Volunteer – AFCS
I was an Aircraft Engineer in the Royal Navy for 17 years and have served on numerous Ships and Air Stations during my career.
I was diagnosed with MS in 2009 whilst serving at RNAS Yeovilton. At that time, I found it very difficult to come to terms with both the diagnosis and the career implications.
I found out about Mutual Support by accident whilst searching the internet for some information. Since then I have been in regular contact with Suzanne and Terl who have helped me enormously through some very difficult times.
I left the RN in 2010 and have personal experience of the medical discharge process and the bureaucracy surrounding pensions and benefits. I joined the support team and main committee in 2011 and my role within the organisation is to assist our members with pension related matters. I hope to help others secure the pension benefits that they are entitled to.
Heather Smith – Support Volunteer – War Pensions
My name is Het Smith and I have been a member of Mutual Support from almost the day it was formed. I served in the RAF as a Supplier from 1979 to 1998 when I was medically discharged with a diagnosis of MS.
Within Mutual Support, over the years I have been a Mutual Support Contact, Newsletter Editor, Secretary and Welfare Manager and I am currently the War Pensions Volunteer. I have a background and a knowledge of War Pensions, having served on both the London and currently the South West Veterans Advice and Pensions Committees since I left the Service.
If you have a query about War Pensions then please contact me via Email at:
If I can’t help you then I will know a person who can.
My current role is as Mutual Supports War Pensions Volunteer and main Committee member.
Penny Tyas – Support Volunteer – Benefits
I was in the Royal Naval Reserve at HMS Sussex in Hove for 5 years until it was disbanded in the eighties. It was a fantastic time, and it still amazes me that something fun that I took on over 30 years ago can continue to have such a profound impact on my life since developing MS.
I met my second husband through the RNR, and we set about buying a boat and planning to sail around the world. We left UK in 1987 and spent far too much on enjoying life and ended up in the Caribbean with no funds left. I have left England 3 times to sail around the world, but keep getting stuck in the Caribbean. I have promised myself that next time I plan on a circumnavigation I will start from there! After six years in the British Virgin Islands, and fifteen in Antigua, I came to the UK in 2009 on a holiday, found I loved England, and decided to stay.
I was diagnosed with MS in 2013, 4 years after my first episode. I was completely shocked and in denial and spent a rough few months housebound, losing my job, going bankrupt, and getting evicted. However, the military family was there for me, and caught me when I fell. Mutual Support is brilliant; it put the emphasis on military, something that makes us all a little odd anyway, and the fact that we have MS becomes a secondary concern in a strange way.
As I have had personal experience with the nightmares of claiming DWP benefits, I offered to be a Benefits Volunteer for Mutual Support. I have been trained to assist on PIP, and I hope to help others whenever they need it.
Jackie Hagan – Benefits Volunteer
Hi everyone I work alongside my sister Jenny at the respite weekends delivering Aromatherapy and Indian Head Massage. I have spent the last twenty five years working within the Childcare and Education sector. Five years ago I graduated with honours and now hold a dual position as a Deputy Manager of a local children’s centre in Liverpool and also work within the outreach team as the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Link Worker. I support families with transition into schools, accessing funding and benefits and deliver targeted intervention. I also teach and deliver accredited courses to parents offering support with their children’s all round development and behaviours. Twelve years ago I qualified as an Aromatherapist and in my spare time I run my own mobile therapy service, which also includes working within a local care home delivering therapies to the elderly who have complex needs and Alzheimer’s. I am the proud Mother of three boys Ronnie, Shane and Jake and I have a beautiful grandson called Zachary.
Peter McKernan – Support Volunteer – Serving Members
I completed service with the Royal Navy, Fleet Air Arm, in June 2009 after joining up in July 1974. I was suspected of having Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 1998 but not given a formal diagnosis until January 2004. On attendance at a Medical Board of Survey, they elected to keep me in the service. At the time, I had fewer than 20 months to complete and with other personal issues, it would have been too much stress to handle (and possibly trigger a series of relapses) if had appealed so I did not. During this time I was asked to extend for a further period of 12 months and for a further period of 12 months the following year. Hence the extended time served. I have been married to Sharon for over 30 years and have two grown up sons and three grandchildren, two boys and one girl. I have been a member of Mutual Support since January 2009.
Katherine Sims – Support Volunteer – Serving Members
I joined the RAF in 1985, and served for 12 years, leaving on voluntary redundancy in 1997. Married to Paul ( also a RAF veteran), who also left on redundancy in 1996.
We live in Norfolk, and have 2 children. One at uni, and one still at school!
I was diagnosed in 2014, straight in with Secondary Progressive, as I’d been hospitalised back in 1993, with undiagnosed neuro symptoms!
I was lucky and found Mutual Support within a week of my diagnosis. The help, support and guidance I received when I joined was amazing, and was my motivation to volunteer to give others the support I received.
Joyce Tesch – Support Volunteer – New Members
I have had MS since 1992, diagnosed in 1999.
Over the years I met up with some MS groups here and there but each one was even more depressing than the other.
In 2012 we heard about Mutual Support, my husband was in the RAF so therefore we were eligible to join.
We both felt an instant connection with the group and really enjoyed meeting up with them at Support and Respite weekends.
When we joined, I was given a support volunteer to look after me and she was amazing. When she had to step down I wanted to take over, to assist others in a similar situation. I volunteer because I really enjoy helping people and it is great to give something back.
Hopefully my support will let other people with MS know they are not alone.
I find my work with Mutual Support very rewarding.
Andy Williams – Support Volunteer – New Members
Karen Nazar – Support Volunteer – New Members
I served with Womens Royal Army Corps, Royal Corps of Transport 1977 – 1990. I was Diagnosed with MS in 2007 and found Mutual Support via internet browsing. The first person I had contact with was Suzanne in 2009, the then Chairman or as I call her “Lady in Flowery Dress” (long story!). Suzanne helped me throughout my first years of diagnosis and persuaded me to attend the respite weekends, which I really enjoyed – it was amazing to meet people with whom I had so much in common.
I now give my time to listen and help others, as that first phone call is the hardest.
Lou Pritchard – Support Volunteer – New Members
My Name is Lou and I’m and ex WRAF. I served 12 years before coming out in the first set of redundancies in 1997. I was diagnosed with RRMS in February 2002. I’ve have been on Rebif since June 2003.
I found out about Mutual Support from another member on a different MS site. After speaking to my STC (Support Team Contact) I volunteered to be an STC as I had helped my nurse a few times with any new diagnosed MS Patients. I try to be the type of STC that I would have wanted, someone who can do the serious issues but someone who I felt I could chat to about everything and anything and hopefully a few giggles as well.
I’m very positive about my MS (yes I own it, it doesn’t own me!!)
I still work part time as a Veterinary Receptionist, the first 20 years were at a busy Veterinary Hospital in Lincoln, but I moved to Nottingham last year and work in a branch practice in West Bridgford.
Mutual Support is a fantastic charity and I always look forward to our residential weekends so I can catch up with friends and learn something new from the speakers.