If you spot Anthony and Alice Bridges eating out at a Wiltshire restaurant you’ll think they are just like any other couple. In many ways they are; they’re in their 60s, have recently celebrated their silver wedding anniversary and are enjoying retirement in Amesbury.
What you probably won’t notice until they prepare to leave, is that Alice walks a little awkwardly or may be using a wheelchair and that before they came out to dinner Anthony would have called upon his military training to plan the evening so everything ran smoothly.
This need to plan has been the norm for Anthony since the fateful day back in 1998 when Alice, then in her forties, suffered a stroke. What had started as a normal day turned into a nightmare, when Anthony was called by a neighbour urging him to rush home to be with Alice.
The stroke affected Alice’s left-hand side and she was in hospital for several weeks after it happened. It completely changed the couple’s lives.
Anthony and Alice met through the Forces. Anthony was in the Army and Alice worked with a Forces welfare support organisation. When Alice had her stroke, Anthony was about to start a tour in Germany. This was now out of the question, so he settled instead for a posting at Wilton.
Anthony became Alice’s sole carer and although she can do quite a lot for herself, he’s there for everything else. Alice can walk short distances, but slowly and only with the support of a foot brace. The rest of the time she relies on a wheelchair with Anthony pushing her.
This may not have been the life we planned together, but our motto is that you should never give up and you should make the most of what you have got
Even though Anthony does so much to support his wife, it took several years for him to identify himself as a carer. “When Alice first had her stroke, we just got on with it and have continued to do so. We’re not the sort of people to sit about and moan. When it first happened, I didn’t even think of myself as a carer.”
In recent years Anthony has become a Carer Support Wiltshire volunteer, sitting on two advisory groups to Wiltshire Council, where he puts across the carer’s viewpoint and helps shape carer services.
When new disability benefits rules were introduced – replacing the Disability Living Allowance with Personal Independence Payments – Alice saw her level of benefits reduce and she lost her entitlement to a Motability car. The battles they’ve had over benefits have been time-consuming and stressful.
But overall the couple are unfazed and take everything in their stride. Anthony may be a carer, but he’s first and foremost a husband.
“This may not have been the life we planned together, but our motto is that you should never give up and you should make the most of what you have got. As long as we plan ahead, we can do most things together, as any married couple would do. The difference is, I just have to help Alice with a few more things than an ordinary couple, including helping put on her socks!”