The first indication for David Logan that anything was wrong was pain in his hands.

It spread to his shoulders and arms, and then he developed problems with his feet, so he made an appointment with his GP. In 2003, he received a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.

“When I was first diagnosed there was not much information around,” he said. “Now this is probably the best area to be if you have Parkinson’s. There’s a dedicated team of consultants, nurses and physiotherapists.”

World Parkinson’s Day is April 11, and the Swindon and District branch of Parkinson’s UK – of which David is chairman – has a special reason to celebrate. This year the remarkable group is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Not only has the branch provided information and support, it has put together a programme of exercise and activity classes, as physical exercise is the very best way to slow the advancement of the condition.

“Generally speaking, it affects one side of your body,” he said. “In my case it is the right. To manage the condition, you have to keep up your social, physical and mental activity.”

He said treatments had not significantly improved since the 1960s.

“People will generally be in their 50s when they are diagnosed and will have been sent for other checks first. By the time they are sent to see a neurologist, around 50 per cent of the dopamine producing brain cells will have been affected. Exercise helps delay the progression by giving some protection to the dopamine producing cells.”

Members of the 250-strong branch gathered for a party at the Doubletree Hilton on March 16, for a swift AGM, then a gala 40th anniversary celebration. Guest star Paul Mayo-Archer, a television writer, producer and script editor for the BBC, a co-writer of the Vicar of Dibley who also has a Parkinson’s diagnosis, engaged his trademark humour in a talk at the party.

Parkinson’s is a degenerative neurological disease with no known cure. It is caused when the dopamine-producing nerve cells in the brain begin to die and is thought to be caused by a mix of genetic and environmental factors. Dopamine is needed to help the brain control movement, multi-tasking and learning. It has a wide range of symptoms, including tremor, pain, slowness, speech and communication difficulties, anxiety and an increased risk of dementia.

The NHS says around one in 500 people are affected by the disease, amounting to 127,000 in the UK. Most people start to develop symptoms when they are over 50, though about five present first experience symptoms when they are under 40. Men are slightly more likely to get the disease than women.

The Swindon group has set up a busy programme of physical activities, including special Tai Chi, walking football, dance, seated exercise, and balance and exercise. The exercise programme events are free to attend but cost the branch £18,000. The Swindon and Shrivenham clinical commissioning group made an £11,000 contribution towards the running costs in 2016, but NHS budget cuts mean this will not happen again, so the branch has more money to raise - through grants and donations as well as organising events.

They also run a busy programme of social activities, including outings and talks, welfare information, and evening socials with quizzes and pub games.

Every Friday during term-time, the special dance class at the Swindon Therapy Centre for MS at Bradbury House attracts dozens of participants, who enjoy an hour of exercise and then a chance to socialise. Dance teacher Sarah Fletcher started the class in the spring of 2017.

“At the start, there were about 12 people – today we had 23,” said Geraldine Fisher, who takes part. “I knew I needed to start exercising and I thought I would give it a go. It gets you moving and there are a nice lot of people. It’s getting more and more popular.”

Brinton Wallan, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s five years ago, has been coming to the class for two and a half months.

“You need to try and exercise and keep as fit and mobile as you can – and this helps. It also improves your mood. It’s enjoyable as opposed to just hard work,” he said. “I try and get some exercise of some sort every day.”

Husband and wife Colin and Chris Brown both take part in the class, though only Colin has Parkinson’s. He was diagnosed three years ago and used to do triathlons.

Chris said: “We did a taster session and have been coming ever since. Colin enjoys it.”

David Logan is keen to develop awareness of Parkinson’s, the local branch and all its activities, in all the community groups making up the town.

“We are also spreading the word,” he said. “I did talks on Parkinson’s at the Sikh temple and the Hindu temple in Swindon last year. I’ve given awareness talks to the Rotary Club and Thamesdown Transport.”

Parkinson’s UK was founded in 1969 by Mali Jenkins, whose sister had the disease, and the Swindon branch opened in 1978. In 2014, the branch funded its first balance and exercise class, specially designed by Parkinson’s physiotherapist Pip Morris. The group was a Pride of Swindon Award Winner in 2015 and received a visit from actress Jane Asher the following year.

North Swindon MP Justin Tomlinson said: “I have been working with the group for the past few years and have been impressed with their commitment and energy in supporting those in the Swindon area with Parkinson’s Disease, and their families. Their efforts have paid off and they have achieved some very impressive results which have helped those with Parkinson’s Disease in Swindon. Their fundraising efforts, which have included one member swimming the equivalent of the English Channel in a swimming pool, have allowed for a five-day programme of exercise classes to be run at the Great Western Hospital. Exercise has proven to help the mobility of people suffering from Parkinson’s.”

For further information about the branch and details of how you can help support any fundraising events, please