THOUSANDS of elderly and disabled people are turning to a Teesdale charity for help and support.

The Barnard Castle-based Teesdale Disability Access Forum has provided information, advice and practical support to almost 6,300 people in the past year.

The organisation has enabled hundreds of people to access help with home adaptions, such as the installation of bath rails, walk-in showers, ramps and stair lifts.

Hundreds more have borrowed wheelchairs and walking aids while dozens have sought help with hearing and sight problems.

In a report to Barnard Castle Town Council's partnership committee, the access forum's chief officer Anne Henderson said more and more people looking for help from the organisation.

“We are now really seeing the issues elderly and disabled people are facing as a result of NHS and social services cutbacks.

“Each strand of the project has been used to the full,” she said.

Mrs Henderson said other organisations were now starting to rely on the services provided by the access forum.

“There has been a definite increase in the amount of users that have been sent from district nurses, GPs, social workers, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, voluntary organisations and even local hospitals.”

She added: “Every day we see people with the most upsetting problems that age, disability and illness brings.

“Out aim is for older and disabled people to make the most of what they are able to do – be as mobile as they can, as healthy as possible and live life to the fullest.”

This had put a lot of pressure on the wheelchair and mobility loan service which saw almost 550 people borrow equipment for periods ranging from a few days to a maximum of 12 weeks.

“We put this down to two things – the NHS in our area has a waiting list of between 12 and 18 months to get an NHS wheelchair and our community is coming to us more often as we are now well known for helping when people have a mobility problem.”

Other activities run by the forum include a weekly armchair exercise class and Thursday afternoon club.

Town councillors were told the charity needs to raise £62,000 a year to cover its costs, but several funding streams were coming to an end.

Members agreed to give a £400 grant to the access forum in appreciation of the services it provides.