Leeds charity Shift.ms raises awareness of multiple sclerosis symptoms at Christmas

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A charity founded by people with an “invisible illness” which affects more than 100,000 people in the UK is running a festive campaign to raise awareness of the symptoms.

Leeds-based charity Shift.ms, launched in 2009 as a social network for people with multiple sclerosis (MS), produced 12 online videos which tell of daily life with the condition.

Reality TV star Paul Knops, who was in ITV2’s Love Island, features in one of the films, in which he discusses symptoms with Ellen Marshall, who was diagnosed with MS three years ago.

Mr Knops said: “I spent a day with Ellen and wanted to ask as many questions as possible to help myself and others learn more about MS.

“She spoke with so much warmth and eloquence that we could have spoken all week.

“I didn’t know very much about the disease before, and whilst there is so much more to learn I feel I came away with a much bigger understanding.”

Shift.ms has grown to have 19,000 registered members around the world after being founded by George Pepper, of Headlingley, who was diagnosed with MS in 2004.

Running the charity became a full time job for Mr Pepper, who previously worked for a marketing agency, and Shift.ms now has offices in Leeds and London.

The charity now produces videos seen around the world in which people with MS tell their stories and interview experts. Mr Pepper, 36, said: “Initially we set it up very much as a social network to connect people. We ran it on evenings and weekends.

“It has changed now in that as well as connecting people, we are producing content.”

The Shift.ms 12 Days of Xmas campaign highlights 12 of the most common symptoms of MS. They include fatigue, vision problems, chronic pain, difficulties speaking and swallowing and with balance and physical coordination. Mr Pepper said: “MS is a neurological condition and the symptoms are wide-ranging. Anything that your brain is involved with can go wrong.”

Mr Pepper said the campaign highlighted how people with MS could feel isolated and struggle to talk about their condition with family members over the busy Christmas period.

He said: “We produced 12 videos about each of the different symptoms. We’ve also used animation to bring the stories to life.

“We wanted to show some of the impacts of having MS and how affects people at a busy time of year. It can be very difficult to talk about symptoms if they are hidden. Many of the symptoms you can’t see.”

The charity’s website can be found at https://shift.ms and the campaign uses the social media hashtag #12DaysofXms