A slimming group in Co Armagh, which has taken its meetings online during the lockdown, has notched up the highest virtual number of members in all of Ireland.
The Portadown, Craigavon and Lurgan branch of Slimming World Group has seen around 1,300 of its usual 2,000 members tuning in via Zoom for their weekly classes and additional support.
It makes the team, which has 16 consultants, the most successful out of all the Slimming World groups across Northern Ireland and the Republic.
And despite the temptations of comfort eating during lockdown, many members have not only achieved their target weights, but credit the group with easing isolation and keeping their spirits up.
Among them is healthcare worker Annabelle Merriman, who has lost two stone and four pounds despite working long shifts.
She and new husband Mark, who has also reached his target weight, recently moved to Portadown from Scotland.
She said: “The group has been very important to help both of us feel part of the community.
“I’ve met some wonderful people, people who I will be friends with for life and I’ve made some wonderful memories.
“We have shared laughs at our meetings and virtual meetings and looking back I’m so glad that I joined because I definitely couldn’t have lost that weight without the support of the group and now our virtual groups.”
Meanwhile, grandfather-of-12 Sid Irwin, who struggles with his mental health, said the group meetings had helped him cope despite “a few meltdowns”.
He also achieved his three-and-a-half stone loss milestone award last week.
The 59-year-old said: “I’m a very sociable person, love chatting, so being told to stay away from everyone, especially grandkids, isn’t easy. I miss my church and coffee shops.”
Slimming World consultant Geraldine Haughian said that even older members who weren’t familiar with technology had managed to take part online, and that the classes had been hugely successful. When the announcement was made that meant we couldn’t run groups, we were devastated,” she said.
“We contacted every one of our members who were also feeling lost and worried about how they were going to cope. So we knew we had to find a way.
“Like everyone, our members were dealing with a whole range of issues, worrying about family and friends becoming ill, whether they could work or not, feeling isolated and comfort eating as a result.”
She added: “Being able to chat and catch up with friends is wonderful and it’s what is helping everyone deal with our new normal and be able to have a more positive outlook for what lies ahead.”
For more information log on to Co Armagh Slimming World Facebook page or phone Amanda Girvan on 07515 945 461 or Geraldine Haughian on 07857 254 669