First Housing Aid and Support Services in Enniskillen has received almost £24,000 funding from the Housing Executive to provide a free counselling service for its tenants.

Housing Executive tenant Rayanne Dooley (25), who has multiple sclerosis (MS), has used the counselling service and has had such a positive experience that she plans to take a course in the autumn to train as a counsellor herself.

Rayanne said: “I would absolutely recommend this service. The counsellor, Donna Megraw, is wonderful and I tell her all the time that she changed my life!

“When I became ill I was confined to my bedroom, two storeys up, in a privately-rented flat for months and months, unable to get out.

"I was diagnosed with MS during the pandemic and couldn’t do anything, I was paralysed from the waist down. It was a very stressful time.”

Rayanne also spent around six months in hospital and during this time was helped by the Housing Executive and social workers. That was when she came in contact with First Housing and her counsellor.

“At first, I didn’t want a counsellor, but when I got talking to Donna she clicked with me instantly. I felt she was really listening to me.

“Initially we had phone conversations every two weeks. She motivated me to keep going.

"I found I could really talk to her and, for the first time, I felt that I mattered. That was very different for me,” she said.

“When I got out of hospital, a new Housing Executive bungalow was being made ready for me and my partner, and I got to meet Donna face to face for the first time.

“I moved into my property on July 12 last year, and I absolutely love it. Everything was being sorted for us and I felt a great sense of peace and calm. Everyone has been so kind and helpful.”

Rayanne added: “Donna is unique – there is something about her. She is made for her job. She keeps me sane and on a constant; she motivates me and I love myself for the first time in my life.

“When I became paralysed, I was told I probably wouldn’t walk again, but now I can.

"My medical team said they don’t know how or why; I believe I made a good recovery because I was motivated and for once cared about myself.

“I use a wheelchair, but I go to the gym five days a week now. I want people to know about the First Housing counselling service because, for me, it really has been life-changing.”

The charity was awarded funding for the service for two years to help Fermanagh tenants improve their mental health.

Claire Crainey, from the Housing Executive, said: “We are delighted to provide funding for such a worthwhile service, which we believe will have a hugely positive impact on those who use it.

“The wellbeing of our customers is at the heart of everything we do and we are committed to providing support to reduce tenancy breakdowns, prevent homelessness and promote stable and sustainable communities.”

Maria Thompson, Floating Support Co-ordinator with First Housing, said: “The last few years have been tough for many. During Covid-19, people lost jobs, living costs have increased, relationships have become strained, isolation and loneliness have increased and mental health has deteriorated.

“We believe that providing this counselling to improve mental health is essential. Nobody has to suffer in silence and we would encourage Housing Executive tenants across Fermanagh to get in touch and make use of this excellent and very necessary service which is part of our wider Coming Home project.”

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