For the last 40 years, Linlithgow Link has been there to help isolated people in the town.
Sadly, in February the council announced the charity’s funding would be withdrawn completely.
Now, it is feared that as Linlithgow Link celebrates its 40th birthday it will also mark its final year.
The news has devastated not only those who rely on Link every week to travel to hospital appointments and for company, but also those who helped make the charity what it is today.
Chief among their number is Link’s former co-ordinator Joy Macintyre (78), who agreed to talk us through Link’s history.
Set up in 1979 as the first voluntary group of its kind in West Lothian, its aim then – as it remains today – was to provide a voluntary service that promoted the concept of a more caring community.
And one lady was at the heart of powering its work, the legendary Isa Morrison.
Joy explained: “It was the district nurses who first saw the need for a service to alleviate loneliness, especially in the elderly population whom they visited most.
“Invariably, the patients wanted the nurses to stay for longer and have a cup of tea because they were isolated.
“So the nurses spoke to their nursing officer at the time, Isa Morrison.
“If you knew Isa, you’d know that if someone suggested something like that, she’d immediately start to think about what she could do to help.”
Isa consulted the parish minister, Reverend Ian Paterson, who was minister of St Michael’s from 1977 until May 4, 2003.
Joy said: “There was no money to set up the group so Isa sold vegetables from her garden, leaving an honesty box for donations.
“Rev Paterson also asked someone from Corstorphine Care to come through and give a talk in Cross House – all the voluntary bodies in the town were invited.
“Linlithgow Link was then founded with Rev Paterson as its chairman and Isa serving as liaison officer.
“That meant she was responsible for meeting everyone who volunteered.
“There were only five volunteers to begin with and I was one of them.
“Isa was delighted when she realised I had secretarial skills as she was doing pretty much everything!”
Around a year after Link was set up, health visitor Joyce Dishington asked Link to help mums get to and from the maternity unit at Bangour – launching Link’s car service.
Joy said: “Link was, at that time, a care service with our main role being to visit people in their own homes.
“The car service started because getting to Bangour was a terrible journey for mums, particularly if they had other children.
“Not as many people had cars in those days either so it was a vital service.”
Link’s first co-ordinator was Mary Clark, with Joy serving as secretary.
They would meet the nurses and health visitors once a week to discuss new referrals and each client would then be matched with one of the volunteers.
The charity continued for a number of years, funded solely by the community and the many awards it won along the way.
Joy, for example, won Whitbread’s Scottish community care award in 1989, using the money secured to buy child car seats for the car service.
In 1988, Link’s financial position was critical but a public collection raised £800 to help it survive for a year.
Joy said: “We got all the tins from the Red Cross so we didn’t have to buy our own.
“A few years later, the council started to part-fund the charity.”
Appointed co-ordinator in 1982, Joy finally retired from the post in 1997 and has nothing but happy memories of her time with Link.
So it was with heavy heart that she heard the news about Link’s current financial crisis.
She added: “My son had just started at secondary school when I saw the posters asking for Linkers.
“When Isa realised I could take minutes, it was the perfect marriage of skills and that was me in. I was the first co-ordinator in our office at St Michael’s Hospital administration wing.
“I never regretted it and I met a lot of lovely people. It’s amazing how just talking to someone can really help make a difference to them.
“I think it’s a disgrace that an organisation which has been so successful for 40 years can have its funding cut, just like that.
“We were expecting the funding to be cut but never imagined we’d receive nothing from the council. It’s heartbreaking.”
Tuesday group is social lifeline
Barbara Bruce became Linlithgow Link’s co-ordinator on October 1, 1997, when Joy retired and she remained in post until September 30, 2006.
However, she has also continued as a Link volunteer, helping at the Tuesday group at Bield Housing in West Port.
She is also devastated that the council has withdrawn its funding for such a vital service.
Barbara said: “Linlithgow Link has always been way ahead of its time. We’ve been tackling social isolation for 40 years, something the government has only recently targeted.
“Up to 25 people attend the group every week who don’t get out often otherwise.
“As many of them are originally from Linlithgow, they’ve been able to meet old friends at the group who they had long since lost contact with.
“Our Tuesday group clients are absolutely devastated that it is now likely to close.
“It will be very difficult to continue as the council funding paid for the two co-ordinators who organise all the transport and referrals every week.
“Originally, Link was founded as a voluntary organisation but co-ordinating Link now is too much for volunteers.”
In addition to the Tuesday group, the co-ordinators also organise the car service, a caring cafe for those with dementia and their carers at Lowport Centre, excursions, the annual Burns Lunch and the hand delivery of Easter and Christmas gifts and cards.
All of that is now threatened.
Barbara added: “It’s such a small amount of money in the grand scheme of things so I was devastated when I heard the funding had been cut.
“It takes two people to co-ordinate the service, never mind the fundraising for extras such as the Burns Lunch.
“I can’t understand why more hasn’t been done to save Link; it’s a lifeline for folk.”
For more information on Link’s services, visit www.linlithgowlink.org.uk.