A PENSIONER who has barely been outside for almost half a century last night (Thursday, April 24) told how she conquered her agoraphobia to see her grandson receive a Royal honour.
Patricia Cooper, 77, has suffered from the debilitating disorder for 47 years, with the prospect of a day out or even a quick trip to the shops leaving her feeling suffocated and dizzy.
But she was determined not to let her condition stop her from attending a ceremony where her grandson, Kevin Nicholson, received a British Empire Medal for his service to a Darlington community centre.
Mrs Cooper admitted she needed extra encouragement to brave the event after being driven the short distance to the community centre from her care home residence.
She said: “Agoraphobia makes you feel like somebody is strangling you; you can’t move, it is an awful sensation.
“At first I couldn’t go in.
“I was just sitting in the car and I said I couldn’t do it.
“Then one of Kevin’s friends, Jonathan, who I know, came out and said ‘Pat it’s only for three minutes, try and get out of the car’.
“So I made myself do it and I was greeted by the Mayor and Mayoress of Darlington, which was wonderful.”
Mrs Cooper said she was “chuffed” at her achievement but was even more proud of Mr Nicholson, who received the BEM for his work as chairman of the Firthmoor and District Community Association, Darlington’s largest community centre.
She said: “He is my grandson, he is very special to me and he was going to get a medal honoured by the Queen for his work.
“I thought if he saw me today it would make his day.
“His reaction was great, he came running over to me and it was wonderful.”
Mr Nicholson, 25, said he was proud to receive his BEM on behalf of the Firthmoor community and all the people who had helped him improve the centre over the last six years.
He said that it was nice surprise to see his grandmother at the ceremony, adding: “Because of her agoraphobia I have never been to the town with my nanna or anywhere with her, but she made it today.
“In amongst the formalities I was like ‘Nanna what are you doing here!’
“It was really nice to see her, she is obviously very proud of me.”
Mr Nicholson was presented with his BEM by the Lord Lieutenant of County Durham, Sue Snowden, on behalf of the Queen.
He will now attend a royal garden party with his mother at Buckingham Palace in June but joked that a trip to the capital would likely be "an adventure too far" for his grandmother.
Mrs Cooper said that she would use her first successful outing in decades as motivation to try and visit the community centre again to play bingo.