Richard, aged 64, is a long standing volunteer power chair trainer and mentor. He has an undeniable passion for volunteering and enabling people to make positive changes in their lives. Seeing the difference when they break through a barrier or achieve a goal is a satisfying feeling, one that never gets old for Richard.
‘One of the most rewarding things is seeing people develop. When I first meet patients in the hospital, you see a lot of fear in them. And I think that’s how I must have been in those days. But you take them through a power chair training session and it makes a big difference. Then you meet them further down the line, and it’s great to see how far they’ve come on and what they’ve achieved.’
Richard first got involved with Back Up in 2009 during a visit to the National Spinal Injuries Centre, Stoke Mandeville. Whilst he was there, he heard a talk from a staff member about our mentoring service. When Richard sustained his spinal cord injury in 1980 as a result of a road traffic accident, mentoring wasn’t yet available. He saw the huge benefit the service could offer to people with a spinal cord injury and family members, supporting them to overcome challenges in daily life and work towards personal goals.
Luckily, a training weekend for new mentors was taking place the following weekend and a space had opened up. After he completed the training, he was matched with his first mentee: a man with a complete injury at a similar level to Richard. He’d had to move into a care home following his rehabilitation, and Richard mentored him during those difficult early days.
‘After we finished our mentoring relationship, Back Up arranged for me to meet him and his family. We decided to meet at an art gallery, as he was really fond of art. It was such a milestone for him to leave the care home for the first time. Meeting him and seeing what a change had taken place in him was wonderful.’
Richard became one of our first power chair skills trainers in 2011. He is among a team of 46 trainers that travel throughout the UK delivering sessions at all 11 spinal injury units. He also regularly leads the skills sessions on our residential courses. He gets to see first hand how our sessions give people a new lease of life:
‘Some of the participants on wheelchair skills sessions at spinal centres attend a couple of times whilst they’re there. I’ve seen many of them develop over that time, learn new skills and gain confidence. As a trainer, that’s really amazing to see.’
Richard speaks most fondly of his time as a skills trainer on our Over 50s courses. He believes that age is no barrier to a fulfilling life.
‘You get people on the Multi Activity courses who are 80 years old and when they’re told that they’ll be doing kayaking, abseiling down a rock face, they turn around and say ‘no we can’t do that’. But when they actually do it, it’s amazing how much fun they have and what they get out of the experience.’
It’s moments like these that are the real payoff for any volunteer – getting to see people grow and develop, learning more about what life still holds for them.
‘After 3 to 4 days on a Multi Activity course, you can start to see a change in people. The night before the last day we often all have a chat about what people have got out of the course. It can be quite touching.
Sometimes people get very emotional because they’ve achieved so much. They might not have been out of the house for months. They’ve lost contact with other people who have a spinal cord injury and now they’re doing all kinds of things!’
Richard is a truly special volunteer and we hope that he will continue to show people how much is still possible after spinal cord injury. He knows that it’s not a life ending, just a new one beginning.