A REVOLUTIONARY treatment centre that started life because of a £30 raffle has celebrated 30 years of helping people with multiple sclerosis (MS).

The HOPE Centre in Neyland celebrated three decades of supporting local people with degenerative conditions with a special church service and reception on Friday (January 8).

Guest of honour was 84-year-old Dorothy Johns, from Narberth, the only remaining founder member.

“It was just one room to start with, we had no furniture or anything,” remembered Mrs Johns.

Mrs Johns and her fellow volunteers were inspired to ‘do something’ following the tragic loss of her eldest son Roland, who had MS, aged just 30.

“There were no treatments available back then,” she said.

Asked how she felt to see the centre still going strong after 30 years, Mrs Johns said: “It’s unbelievable, I think it’s fantastic, and was well worth the effort.

“It makes me feel proud that they’ve got it up to such a high standard.

“Great oaks from little acorns grow.”

She said she was confident the centre - which offers oxygen therapy and physiotherapy for people was in ‘safe hands’ for the future, and thanked the hundreds of local groups, organisations and individuals who had made vital donations during its three-decade history.

Ken Bromley, HOPE chairman, explained how the centre started life.

“The group started 30 years ago because patients used to have to travel to Ferryside for physiotherapy, but found it was too long a day,” he said.

“Eight volunteers started meeting in Narberth, and came up with the name, and then started fundraising.

“The first money we raised was £30 from raffling off a bottle of whisky, donated by the steward of Narberth Rugby Club.”

Open throughout the week, and helping around 60 people a month – some of these daily - the centre’s annual costs now total around £107,000.

Of this, around £30,000 comes from the local health board, £15,000 from members, and £15,000 from Pembrokeshire Parkinson’s Group, which uses the centre on Wednesdays.

The shortfall comes entirely from the centre’s fundraising committee, and donations.

Boosting this year’s income on Friday was a £2,500 cheque from V.W.Bro Mr Brian C Hilling Deputy Provincial Grand Master of the Province of West Wales & W. Bro Dr Bryn W Barton Charity Steward Strumble Lodge, which will enable the centre to buy a new standing frame, and help clients in wheelchairs keep healthy and as mobile as possible.

Also presenting a cheque for more than £5,000, raised through a charity skydive last year, was Jamie Lewis, High Sheriff of Dyfed.

“It’s nice to support a small local charity that does and wonderful job,” he said.

Stewart and Elizabeth Treharne of EC Thomas Funeral Directors also donated £750.

County Council chairman Cllr Wynne Evans – whose consort Gwyneth Johns is Mrs Johns’ daughter - also presented £230, raised in the Boxing Day swim.

“I’m so grateful that HOPE is here in Pembrokeshire, so people can have the treatment they really need,” he said.

"We can't cure anyone, but we can help them hold on to the quality of life they have left," said Mr Bromley.

Continuing the 30th year celebrations, a special gala concert will take place at St Davids Cathedral on June 17, with performances from Pembroke Male Voice Choir, Whitland Male Voice Choir, Goodwick Brass Band, Aaron Pryce-Lewis and Bella Voce.

On April 23, Seren Irish Dancers and Aaron Pryce-Lewis will also perform at a fundraising concert at the Torch Theatre.

For more details, contact the HOPE centre on 01646 600384.