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Inverness couple named as winners at national multiple sclerosis (MS) charity awards

By Gregor White

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Emma and Barry MacDowell at their wedding. Picture: Allan Law Photography
Emma and Barry MacDowell at their wedding. Picture: Allan Law Photography

A husband and wife from Inverness have been announced as winners in the MS Society’s annual Volunteer Impact Awards.

The awards are a celebration of the amazing impact volunteers have on people affected by multiple sclerosis (MS).

Barry and Emma MacDowell, from Inverness, were two of 20 volunteers shortlisted for their contribution.

Emma attended the virtual awards ceremony last night, hosted by comedian and MS Society ambassador Ivo Graham.

More than 130,000 people live with MS in the UK, and more than 15,000 of those live in Scotland.

MS is a condition that affects the brain and spinal cord, impacting how people move, think and feel.

Emma and Barry MacDowell.
Emma and Barry MacDowell.

Barry (49) and Emma (37) won the ‘Informing’ category after being shortlisted by a panel of volunteers.

The newlyweds, who live in Kinmylies, were recognised for inspiring millions of people with the heart-warming story of their first dance as a married couple.

The pair both live with MS and Barry uses an electric wheelchair full-time.

After proposing to Emma he was determined to stand for their first dance, so they embarked on a year of secret physiotherapy before surprising family and friends on their wedding day.

To mark World MS Day 2023, they worked with MS Society Scotland to share their story – and a video of the dance.

More than 17 million people read the story and many more watched and shared the video on social media.

Emma and Barry MacDowell at their wedding. Picture: Allan Law Photography
Emma and Barry MacDowell at their wedding. Picture: Allan Law Photography

Their story even went global, appearing on the New York Post’s website as well as on news sites in Asia and Africa.

Emma, who is a member of the Inverness and Nairn Local Group and fundraised for the MS Society as a child because both her parents had MS, said: “We shared our story to show that nothing is impossible.

"We wanted to show people with MS as normal people doing normal things.

"More people seem to have heard of MS now compared to when I was a kid, but the awareness is still not where you’d want it to be.

"People still don’t know enough about MS – what it is, what it does, how it affects people, but also what you can still do even though you’ve got it. It’s not a death sentence!

“We didn’t expect the story to blow up the way it did! It was absolutely amazing, we couldn’t believe it. I had friends messaging me to say we’d just popped up on their screens, including someone who was in New York!

"We’re still getting people commenting on the video online. Someone messaged us the other day and said they just wanted to give us a hug. It’s just nice that it’s making people feel happy and positive.

“We were so shocked to find out we were finalists. We didn’t think a dance would do that! And to win was absolutely mind-blowing. We didn’t expect it at all.

“We’re pleased we managed to raise so much awareness and we just hope we’ve helped to show that you shouldn’t let MS stop you doing things; you just might need to do them differently.”

The widespread coverage also highlighted the work of staff at Elgin-based neuro-physiotherapy and rehabilitation organisation Move4ward, who helped Barry achieve his goal.

Barry and Emma were announced as winners by singer and songwriter Emeli Sandé, who congratulated the pair in a pre-recorded video clip made especially for them.

Morna Simpkins, director of MS Society Scotland, said: “Barry and Emma’s win at the Volunteer Impact Awards was very well deserved.

"More than 15,000 people in Scotland live with MS, and more than 130,000 throughout the UK. When people share their personal stories like this couple did, it helps to raise awareness of what MS is and how it can affect people. This can lead to more and improved support becoming available, and it helps us towards our goal of making life better for everyone living with MS.

“Barry and Emma’s story is inspiring, emotional and uplifting. As well as bringing MS to the attention of millions of people around the world, it showed that being diagnosed with the condition does not have to stop people achieving their dreams.”

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