The Enduring Legacy of Edinburgh’s Eric Liddell Centre

| Rachel Berry

Eric Liddell may be the most heroic athlete you’ve never heard of. He was a gold medal winner in the 1924 Paris Olympics and represented on screen in the film Chariots of Fire. He was also a committed Christian and a missionary in China, where he died in a World War Two internment camp after a lifetime serving others. 

His legacy endures thanks to Edinburgh-based care charity and community hub, the Eric Liddell Centre. For the last 40 years, they’ve operated from a converted church in Morningside, just two miles south of Edinburgh Castle.

The charity provides care services for the elderly, particularly those living with dementia. “Dementia/Alzheimer’s is projected to replace cancer as society’s number one challenge in the next 20 years or so,” says Chief Executive John MacMillan. “There are 8,000 people in Edinburgh living with dementia. At a Scottish level, it’s getting on to 100,000 people. Almost every family will be touched by dementia.” 

The Centre offers daycare services to 70 people each week; 3,500 per year. “We provide a vibrant curriculum of learning, social interaction, health and wellbeing, social contact, discussion, and good fun as well,” says John. “A diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s is not the best news that families get, but it’s also not the end of a good quality life either.” 

Tailored services, like befriending, are available to carers. “It’s about providing some me-time,” says John. “Our befriending service matches volunteers and carers, who meet up each week to maybe have a coffee, go shopping, or climb Arthur’s Seat – whatever the carer is interested in. Carers have told us that that hour or two per week is like gold dust because it gives them a break, and it boosts them up to continue being a carer.”

Services at the Centre are designed to meet dementia- or age-related care needs. What’s striking is the broader impact of addressing emotional needs, such as the effects of social isolation. John remembers one 85-year-old woman who attended the centre. Her husband had died, her children had moved away and she was socially isolated. “She was basically a prisoner in her own home,” says John. “She came to our foot care service for a bit of help with her feet; while chatting with one of our volunteers, she mentioned she was a volunteer here 20 years ago! 

“Our volunteer was able to pick up on the isolation that she was experiencing and told her about our classes. So this 85-year-old woman is now coming in here every week to attend our seated dance class. She’s got a purpose to get out of the house and she’s making new friends. Coming in and getting a basic foot care service has actually changed that woman’s life in terms of loneliness and isolation.”

Beyond dementia care, the Centre is a real community hub. There’s a wide variety of evening education programmes, arts and crafts classes, exercise groups including pilates and aerobics, and a community cafe. For children, there are music sessions and gymnastics classes. “This place is generally jumping,” says John. “It’s a buzzing community hub that helps to support and enhance our care work in the community. Whether you’re six weeks old or 106 years old, there’s something for you at the Eric Liddell Centre.”

The thread weaved through all the Centre’s services is seeing the whole person. “Eric Liddell talked about how looking after people, mind, body, and soul has a positive impact on communities,” says John. “That’s the approach we try to take. We work hard to be at the heart of the local community, enhancing health and wellbeing and improving people’s lives.”

Photo provided by Eric Liddell Centre

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