A WOMAN who had to leave her role as a police support community officer after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease is now tackling the illness’ stigma head on.

Fiona Kennaugh, 55, of Barrow, is working with St Mary’s Hospice Living Well Centre to host a Parkinson’s monthly meeting.

Mrs Kennaugh’s meetings, on the second Thursday of every month starting at 11am, are part of the centre’s Cafe Neuro project, which engulfs other meet-ups including multiple sclerosis and motor neurone disease.

Mrs Kennaugh said: “I was diagnosed in 2013.

“I informed my line manager immediately and carried on for four years as I was adept at hiding my symptoms.

“The stigma behind early onset neurological diseases is oppressive, sufferers are afraid to tell family and work as the lack of understanding brings forth loss of job and with it, friends.

“At aged 47, I was in a good place, recently married – great career, with many hobbies such as fell walking and photography.

“I exited the constabulary in 2017 not the way I wanted, because it was something to be unable to work at 53 with a progressive neurological disease, and quietly watch your friends waft away and your hope and dreams.

“Universal credit is criminal - Personal Independence Payment is a cruel system, which penalises the real disabled people as it's made insufferably hard to prove you are eligible.”

Husband and full-time carer Andy Kennaugh said: “I now understand the meaning of a progressive disease.

“Parkinson's is different for every sufferer, the symptoms are rarely the same and even the more well-known tremor is not always evident.

“Fiona was gutted as she had worked hard to help many people in Lancaster and had become a great bridge between the disadvantaged people who distrusted police.

“The problem with Universal Credit is there’s no system based around early onset Parkinson’s as it is much rarer.

“Most sufferers are 65 years old who have paid their mortgage and have a pension so the benefits help to top up their finances.

"They won’t want to travel or get about so much but I’m in my 40s and my wife’s in her 50s.”

Despite their financial worries, the married couple are helping Furness people suffering with Parkinson’s by holding the monthly meeting, while changing attitudes towards the disease.

The project is a collaboration between the Cumbria Neuro alliance, Ms Society, Headway South Cumbria, MNDA and Parkinson’s UK.

Mr Kennaugh said: “We’re hoping to attract people suffering with early onset conditions, but all are welcome.

“We offer a friendly place to chat, offer advice and direction for both people with conditions and their carers or family.”