Stef Cormack: Why are volunteers important?

Stef Cormack: Why are volunteers important?

Back Up was founded thirty years ago by volunteers, and volunteering remains at the heart of everything we do. Stef Cormack, Back Up’s Head of Services, writes about why volunteers are so important for us.

Volunteers are our lifeblood – their work is extraordinary and this month we want to pay tribute to each and every one of you.

Our extended Back Up family reaches right across the UK, our volunteers come from all walks of life and bring a wealth of life experience, passion and expertise to what they do.  It is this diversity, talent, and the fact that they do it just because they want to, that makes their work so uniquely dynamic and powerful.

Research shows that volunteering brings benefits not only to the people supported but to volunteers themselves – volunteering can help people live longer and is good for well being.  The evidence shows it can boost self-esteem, reduce hospital visits, and beat depression, stress and pain. Not only that, other studies have shown it can help you lose weight and even boost your love life!

Volunteers do amazing, challenging things every day for Back Up – delivering services, raising vital funds, raising awareness, helping at events, holding their own events, advising, guiding and supporting us in so many ways.

This week is national Volunteers Week, so it’s a good time to recognise and thank each and every person that supports us along the way and plays their role in transforming lives after spinal cord injury.  And to invite you to get involved in new ways!  Give us a call to chat about how you can be involved

Join our fantastic team of volunteers today


Four volunteers who go above and beyond to deliver our services

Four volunteers who go above and beyond to deliver our services

Maisie Graham

Maisie (right) with her friend

Maisie was just 14 years old when Transverse Myelitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord, changed her life forever. She was at a school assembly when excruciating shoulder pain made her believe she was having a panic attack.

She said: “So I sat down at the matron’s office and I couldn’t stand back up again. It happened so fast.”

The 16-year-old spent several months of intense rehabilitation at Sheffield Children’s hospital, where she first came across Back Up. Maisie was interested to know more about how Back Up helps people with spinal cord injury, so she decided to attend a wheelchair skills training session.

“Before meeting Back Up I was very conscious about people staring at me, but Back Up got me out and about.”

After being discharged from hospital, Maisie stayed in touch with Back Up. She went on a youth course and became one of Back Up’s youth advisors, driving and shaping services for children and young people with spinal cord injury. Maisie is also a wheelchair skills trainer, using her skills to empower others to live more independent lives.

Recently, one of Maisie’s friends took on a wheelchair challenge to understand the everyday struggles she faces and celebrate our 30th anniversary. “Doing the challenge opened up her eyes to how hard it is to get out and about and go around school,” she said. This fundraising challenge raised vital funds for Back Up.

Being a Back Up young volunteer helped Maisie to get out of her comfort zone and learn new things. “Back Up is amazing and I’m so grateful.”

Become a young leader to drive, shape and deliver services for other children and young people with spinal cord injury.

Continue reading “Four volunteers who go above and beyond to deliver our services”

Joe Gadd: From service user to Top Fundraiser

Joe Gadd: From service user to Top Fundraiser

While working at a summer camp in the United States, Joe was involved in a horse riding accident that left him permanently paralysed from the chest down.

When he returned to England, he had an appointment at The National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville, where he noticed a Back Up poster on the wall. Immediately, Joe decided to visit Back Up’s website to find out more about our services, and he couldn’t believe what he saw.

Straight after getting in touch, Joe was matched with a mentor, who was able to help him adjust to life with spinal cord injury and regain confidence. He also went on a multi activity course in Exmoor and a skiing course.

“Back Up has given me the confidence to realise everything is possible if you put your mind to it,” he said. From using the services, Joe quickly became a volunteer and fundraiser.

Continue reading “Joe Gadd: From service user to Top Fundraiser”

How volunteering changed someone’s life

How volunteering changed someone’s life


This month of our 30th anniversary year, we want to turn the spotlight on our fantastic team of volunteers. We were founded by volunteers, and volunteers remain at the heart of everything we do. Ste Unsworth, who has been involved with Back Up since 2003, writes about volunteering and how it changed his life. 

My first Back Up experience was in 2003, which was five years after an accident left me permanently paralysed. The course I went on was amazing. I was actively involved on doing things I had never thought possible since I had become injured in 1998; activities such as kayaking, wind surfing and hiking to name but a few! It opened my eyes to how much life was still in me.

However, following the course, I got stuck back into my old routine and did not progress much, until after finding myself back at a low ebb I decided I needed Back Up’s help once more.

Continue reading “How volunteering changed someone’s life”

No matter where you are, we want to offer support

No matter where you are, we want to offer support

At Back Up, we pride ourselves on being a truly national charity. Over the last year, our team of staff and volunteers have travelled over 16,000 miles delivering vital wheelchair skills training sessions and patient education seminars in the 11 spinal cord injury centres across the UK.

Our volunteer mentors have also been a ‘listening ear’ to people affected by spinal cord injury from the south of Cornwall to the north of Scotland.

But there’s still so much more we can do – each dot on this map shows a place where we have supported people over the last year.

Infographic of BU's Reach

To help us turn the whole map orange, volunteer your time to deliver our vital services

Jacques’s story: Being able to walk

Jacques’s story: Being able to walk

When most people think about spinal cord injury, they imagine someone in a wheelchair. But spinal cord injury affects everyone differently. Some people are able to walk, either unaided or with sticks, and don’t use a wheelchair, or might feel the need to use it some of the time.

Spinal cord injured people who can walk frequently experience a lack of recognition and understanding from others. Feelings of guilt are common and many feel excluded from the spinal cord injured community.

Jacques is one of the many people living with spinal cord injury who can walk. He became injured while doing his national service for the South African Army.

“I was about one month into it when I went with a group of friends on a fishing trip. It was on this trip that I was involved in a freak accident where I fell off a Land Rover into a sitting position, which resulted in me fracturing my pelvis and crushing my spine,” Jacques says.

Jacques’s injury was classed as incomplete, which means he has sensation and movement below his injury level. For Jacques this means he is able to walk.

During his rehabilitation, feelings of guilt started to take over. He felt guilty not only because he was able to walk while other patients couldn’t, but also because people expected him to walk more than he was actually able to.

“In some ways it made me feel like I did not fit in with other patients in the hospitals.”

Research from Back Up found that a number of people who can walk experience pain and fatigue and have difficulties managing it, impacting on their day-to-day lives. “My walking was and to this day is quite slow and unsteady. I have no balance when standing up so I need to use two crutches to stand and walk,” Jacques says.

“Walking is also quite painful for me after short distances and finding a place to sit down becomes a priority so I opted to use a wheelchair most of the time.”

Jacques’s experience meant he was invited to join a working group with other people who can walk to develop a brand new Back Up course – Next Steps. This course will help people like Jacques to rebuild confidence and independence.

It will take place over a long weekend and it will cover life skills, such as accessing public transport, making a meal and getting around a busy city.

“As a person who is able to walk there are always questions around why you don’t do certain things and some people think you are being lazy without knowing all the other things that happen to people with spinal cord injury.”

The course will also give people the opportunity to share experiences and talk about different issues, such as ‘invisible disability’, pain, fatigue management and guilt.

Jacques has faced many challenges because of his injury, but he has also made the best out of life. “Since my injury I have travelled to many different places in the world and have tried so many different activities, some that I never thought I would be able to do due to living with spinal cord injury,” he says.

Jacques hopes that this new course will help people in a similar situation to revive their zest for life. “This course is all about what you want to learn and what would improve your independence. The aim is to give you the confidence to lead a more active life,” he says.

Do you have a spinal cord injury and are able to walk? Apply now for our Next Steps course taking place in September 2017.

Brian Sirrel: Our oldest wheelchair skills trainer

Brian Sirrel: Our oldest wheelchair skills trainer

Getting on the bus, going to the local shops or the pub, playing with your grandchildren in the park, or just safely carrying a cup of tea from the kitchen to your living room – that’s what wheelchair skills training is all about. Back Up’s wheelchair skills training sessions are delivered at all 11 spinal cord injury centres in the UK and on all our residential courses.

The sessions are led by volunteers who have personally experienced spinal cord injury, covering everything from pushing technique and back-wheel balancing to going up and down the stairs. Over 40 people of different ages and backgrounds volunteer their time to teach these vital skills to both manual and powered wheelchair users.

Brian Sirrel, a former football referee, was left permanently paralysed by a neurological condition. Now 80 years old, he is our oldest wheelchair skills trainer.

Brian first got involved with Back Up during his rehabilitation at Oswestry spinal cord injury centre. “I was told that I wouldn’t walk again so my physiotherapist told me to go to one of Back Up’s wheelchair skills sessions so I could learn how to use my wheelchair correctly.”

According to research, 87% of people who attend a wheelchair skills training session feel more confident and independent. Brian says Back Up helped him and his wife to keep on living their lives.

“Back Up has given me confidence and has given me the ability to manage a wheelchair on my own.”

After three sessions, one of Back Up’s wheelchair skills trainers asked Brian if he would like to attend a wheelchair skills training weekend at Calvert Trust. He didn’t think twice about it and immediately decided to go. “My wife and I went up there and that’s when we realised how much Back Up was doing. Not only what it did for me but what it did for other people who are going through particularly tough times.”

Brian officially started to volunteer as a wheelchair skills trainer in 2008 and he hasn’t looked back since. Since he started, Brian has met young and older people with completely different needs. He says it’s important for wheelchair skills trainers to adapt to all age groups. “Even though people have different abilities, they can learn skills to enable them to lead more independent lives,” Brian says.

“Most newly injured people using a wheelchair for the first time want to be more self sufficient, more independent and more confident. And they can all those things with the ability and knowledge of the wheelchair skills trainers.”

As an experienced wheelchair skills trainer, Brian has lots of tips to share with fellow wheelchair users who need support: “Do listen to what you’ve been told, watch how the wheelchair skills trainers react to different hazards and look at how they manage to get over them.”

For Brian, age is just a number. Over the coming years, he wants to keep on supporting Back Up and people whose lives have been changed after spinal cord injury. “My main ambition is to keep on helping others the best I can, to show them age is no barrier to whatever you want to do.”

Were you inspired by Brian’s story? Volunteer as a wheelchair skills trainer