Sam Hows: Volunteering as a buddy on our courses

Sam Hows: Volunteering as a buddy on our courses

What inspired you to volunteer as a buddy on Back Up’s Moving forwards course?

I was a Physiotherapist working in a hospital in Brisbane. A ‘quarter-life crisis’ caused me to quit my job and travel to the UK for three months. I didn’t want the trip to be entirely selfish so I looked into volunteering abroad. I have always had an interest in working with people with spinal cord injury and with the help of google I found Back Up. It looked like a fantastic organisation and I’d never come across anything similar at home. The team were very accommodating and organised a Skype interview. Due to the time difference I wore business attire on top and pyjama pants on the bottom! Chatting with Tim Farr about what the courses entail as well as my role as a buddy made me so excited and the countdown was on till I flew to the UK.

What did you get out of the experience?

All the participants of Moving Forwards can vouch for how much I enjoyed the course. This was made particularly evident by me sobbing my eyes out on the last night. I would Skype my family each night about the course and they kept saying ” Sammy, I think we’ve just lost you to the UK. Sounds like you’re having too much fun to come home.” I can honestly say the course was one of the best things I’ve ever been lucky enough to be a part of. As a Physiotherapist, I am used to spending lots of time with different people in rehabilitation but it is very important to maintain a professional relationship. As a buddy, it was wonderful to spend time with the participants in a more relaxed and social setting.

What do you think the participants got out of the experience?

What I think Back Up and the team leaders do so well is tailoring each course to their participants. The Moving Forwards course was designed for and by 18-25 year olds. I don’t think the course would have been as meaningful and successful if the group had to sit around in a circle for hours. Instead it facilitated participants engaging in activities that people their age might want to do: going to the pub, shopping, cooking for their friends and getting around a new city. It was a fantastic and safe setting for participants to build their confidence and share experiences and tips with each other.  I think the participants also enjoyed having the chance to socialise with other young people with a spinal cord injury.

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Sam on the Moving Forwards course, August 2016

What was the highlight of your volunteering experience with Back Up?              

I was a buddy on two Back Up courses and they remain a huge highlight of my three month stint in the UK. I feel so lucky to have been involved even in a small capacity. I learned so much and especially about how unique and extraordinary Back Up is.

Would you like to get involved with Back Up in the future?

I’ve already made plans to marry Prince Harry so he can help fund my mission to start a Back Up Down Under (copyright). On return to Brisbane I have been included in discussions with various professionals working in similar organisations. While it is only early days, it is exciting to share ideas with Australians who’ve also had such a positive experience with Back Up.

What would you say to others considering volunteering on a Back Up course?

I would say definitely do it and just try not to be the only one who cries when it comes to saying goodbye! I could have met anyone while travelling in the UK and I met this amazing bunch of people who truly change people’s lives. I will be forever grateful to have stumbled across this wonderful organisation.

If you’d like to be a buddy or carer on one of our residential courses, click here to apply or email Merryn (merryn@backuptrust.org.uk) for more information.

Bethany’s story: Throwing my own event

Bethany’s story: Throwing my own event

I first got involved with Back Up when I was at Oswestry spinal injury unit. They told me about the charity and the different courses they do, including the under 13s course. I ended up going on that course and absolutely loved it. I’ve been involved with Back up ever since!

The work of the charity is important to me for a few different reasons. It has really helped me gain more confidence and improve my wheelchair skills, which has been really helpful in increasing my independence. It is also important to me because I get to meet lots of other people and have opportunities to try new things.

I’ve even become a member of the youth advisory group and get to be involved in planning what Back Up offers other young people like me. I also recently group led one of the under 13s courses which was so much fun. It’s great to be able to help other young people develop and I can pass on things that I’ve learnt to them.

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Photo by Guy Harrop. Bethany and her mum, Dawn.

I decided I wanted to do something to say thank you to Back Up for all the help they’ve given me. I was inspired to create my own event was because I wanted to raise money for Back Up doing something that was relevant to me and that I love doing. I have done a lot of swimming competitions in the past, so I thought it would be nice to do a sponsored swim and get my school involved!

I’d definitely recommend creating your own event to other people as it gives you the freedom to choose what you want to do and allows you to show people what it is you love doing, and then prove to them that you can actually do it.

If you’d like to hold your own fundraising event, you can click here to find out more or email Kat (katherine@backuptrust.org.uk) to discuss what you’d like to do.

Kierson’s story: Back Up to Work

Kierson’s story: Back Up to Work

It was back in 1998 when I fell from the balcony of my apartment in the Austrian Alps. I was 23 years old and only 2 days into a long-awaited snowboarding trip.

It was all so confusing: the ambulance, the local hospital, the transfer to Innsbruck in the middle of the night. Then suddenly there were all these serious looking doctors with heavy German accents around me and I was just trying to comprehend what had happened – it was pretty bad, that much was obvious!

Then, with no insurance cover, it was an overland drive back to the spinal injuries centre in Sheffield – but that’s another story.

As well as the boundless support from my family and especially my girlfriend (who’s now my wife), I kept three things in my head and these really helped me through those difficult times:

  1. Stay positive
  2. Don’t give up
  3. Do what you love

It’s remarkable then that these are the very things I find myself explaining, 18 years later, in a ‘mock’ interview with a senior manager at a world-renowned finance company on the top floor of a state-of-the-art office building right in the centre of Manchester!

Ironically, I hadn’t actually wanted to do the Back Up to Work course that this interview was a part of as I had initially contacted the charity about trying skiing again. But I was out of work due to a bit a crisis where lots of spinal cord injury related health issues caught up with me as I turned 40 and I thought – why not!

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Kierson on the Back Up to Work course

I must admit the thought of working on my CV, having to talk in front of others and doing speed interviews was a bit daunting and, like everyone else, I had my reservations. This wasn’t going to be zooming down the sparkling slopes with the wind in my hair.

But I have to say that this was one of the best and most useful courses that I have ever been on. I was made welcome right from the start by the Back Up staff and group leaders. The whole team was so friendly and supportive and the course tutor, Helen, was absolutely brilliant.

The content was fun, thought provoking, lively and interspersed with real life anecdotes and really insightful tips for finding and securing your dream job. Added to this, we had some inspirational talks from the top team at KPMG and face-to-face advice sessions with experts from throughout the company.

By the time I got home I was raring to go with a revamped CV and cover letter at the ready. I applied for 2 positions within a week and, not a month after the course, I had my first interview employing my new-found skills and later that same day – a fantastic new job in the bag!

So, I think I will be going skiing this year after all!

Our next Back Up to Work course will be taking place in Manchester, July 23-25 2017. Apply online here or email Andy (andy@backuptrust.org.uk) if you’d like more information about the course.