Volunteering at Back Up | How can you get involved?

Volunteering at Back Up | How can you get involved?

We believe that all of our team of over 400 volunteers make a unique and vital contribution to our work. Back Up was founded by volunteers and volunteering remains at the heart of everything we do. Our volunteers govern Back Up, run wheelchair skills sessions, group lead courses, raise awareness and funds, and support and develop our work in so many different ways.

If you’d like to become a Back Up volunteer, here are three options you could consider: become a mentor, volunteer as a nurse or personal assistant (PA) on one of our courses, or volunteer in the office.


If you or a loved one has a spinal cord injury, you could use your own personal experience to support others in a similar situation as a volunteer mentor.

Passing on those vital words of wisdom to someone adjusting to life post injury can be a life-changing experience for both you and your mentee.

“I have been a family mentor with Back Up for almost six years. When my son had his accident 13 years ago there was nobody to talk to when I needed to, as the mentoring service was not in operation at that time.

Caroline, Family Mentor

Being able to offer some of my time, share experiences and listen to other parents to support them through times of adjustment is very rewarding for me. Every call is different, every case is different yet we all go through the same pain.

Volunteering for Back Up is a way for me to help the charity to reach out and transform lives of families as well as those who are injured.” (Caroline, Family Mentor)

To find out more about becoming a mentor, please contact Polly by email (Polly@backuptrust.org.uk) or give her a call on 020 8875 6721.

Nurse or Personal Assistant (PA)

Back Up runs a range of residential courses for people with spinal cord injury to help them rebuild confidence and independence. To ensure that our participants can enjoy themselves and get the most out of our courses, we rely on the vital support of Nurses and Personal Assistants (PAs).

The role involves assisting with the personal care needs of spinal cord injured participants and volunteers, supporting participants to develop their skills and independence, and contributing to the positive experience of the group as a whole.

Getting the chance to see people grown in confidence – and being a part of that transformation – can be a truly rewarding experience. It also offers a unique chance to work with people with spinal cord injury outside a clinical environment whilst having plenty of fun along the way!

“Volunteering with Back Up has given me fantastic experiences and the knowledge that I’m helping to make a big difference. Seeing how the participants grow and develop on courses is so amazing and makes me feel really proud to be involved. Being a PA on courses has also improved my employability. Volunteering looks great on anyone’s CV, but volunteering with Back Up is a real plus.’’ (Amanda, PA)

Amanda (2nd from right) on the way to Sweden with the Ski Karting group members

To find out more about volunteering as a Nurse or PA, please get in touch with Merryn by email (Merryn@backuptrust.org.uk) or give her a call on 020 8875 6741.

Office Volunteer

We are always on the lookout for volunteers to help out with admin and marketing support at our offices based in Wandsworth, South West London. Whether you know your way around an excel spreadsheet, have an eye for design, or some regular time to help out with general administration, we would love to hear from you!

Whilst you may not be out on the front line delivering the services, you will have the opportunity to do invaluable behind-the-scenes work that ensures the smooth running of our services and fundraising events. You’ll also have the opportunity to develop professionally and work alongside a bright and passionate team who will ensure that your time spent in the office is enjoyable and fulfilling.

‘‘I really look forward to going into the office and it has been an ideal stepping stone back to the world of work, but with the added  ‘safety net’ that I am working alongside colleagues who understand what it is like to have a spinal cord injury and the complications that go with it. I feel valued and supported and it has been excellent for building up my confidence, gaining new friendships and adding structure to my week.’’  (Tracy, Office Volunteer)

Tracy at out offices in Wandsworth, South London

To find out more about our office volunteering opportunities, please contact Kat by email (Katherine@backuptrust.org.uk) or give her a call on 020 8875 6749.

You can also visit the volunteering section of our website to see all our other volunteer roles.


Andreea’s Q & A: Volunteering as a corporate buddy

Andreea’s Q & A: Volunteering as a corporate buddy

How did you first become involved with Back Up?

In November 2015, I received an email from my company asking for people to volunteer as Buddies on Back Up’s Ski Karting course in Sweden. I liked the idea but two things held me back initially:

  1. I knew nothing about spinal cord injury – I had never even met someone with a spinal cord injury. So I felt completely inadequate for the role – what could I offer Back Up and the participants?
  2. It was a busy time at work and I didn’t think my manager would let me take an extra week off.

But I was still interested so I applied on the last day before the deadline. Luckily, my boss is a snowboard fanatic and understood the benefits of the course so he happily signed off on me taking the week to volunteer. (He just came back earlier this year from Back Up’s Colorado Sit Ski course where he also went as a Buddy – so I managed to get him hooked on Back Up too!)

So you started off as a corporate buddy then became a regular volunteer. What prompted that decision?

The energy, the positive vibes, the amazing team work and the friendships I got out of the Sweden Ski Karting course were the main reasons behind my decision to continue volunteering with Back Up. That week in Sweden I felt I really contributed by just being myself and bringing a positive attitude. I learned from others, listened to what they needed, helped out wherever I could and had fun with everyone. It was quite an intense schedule: from coffee rounds in the morning at 7am, to going through the skiing schedule, to afternoon spa sessions and socialising till late. But I never felt tired.

My biggest worry was that I might hurt or offend someone I was actually trying to help by offering assistance. Was there a protocol? I didn’t want to be rude and do things for people that they’d prefer to do themselves. Thankfully, one of the volunteer nurses gave me the best advice at that point and said that if you’re not sure, just ask.

Following that discussion, I felt much more confident like I was part of a very well-functioning machine. And after a while, I felt like I didn’t even notice that some people were using a wheelchair. I just stopped seeing the chair and started seeing the person.

Andreea (left) with group members on Sweden Ski Karting course

After the Sweden Ski Karting course, I decided I wanted to do another course with Back Up as a buddy, to get to know some more incredible people and gain more experience so I could get trained up as a group leader.

I decided to volunteer on the Belfast City Skills course in August 2016. What really touched me was the progress I saw in the participants over the duration of the course. Everyone felt more independent and left with renewed self-confidence because of the skills they discovered (from balancing on their back wheels, to going down flights of stairs, to pushing with one hand while holding a drink – everyone learned something new and useful). Belfast is also a beautiful city and we had a very knowledgeable guide to take us around.

Andreea (right) with group members on Belfast City Skills course

What did you get out of your volunteering experience?

On a personal level, I learned a lot about the challenges people with a spinal cord injury face in daily life. I also gained self-confidence as I found out that I can try new things and do them well. I also made lots of wonderful friendships.

As a Buddy, I had to use my initiative a lot to recognise when tasks needed to be completed and when participants required assistance. This has transferred to my professional life as I can see when colleagues need my advice and where I can add value to a discussion.

The Belfast City Skills course group

Do you think more companies should create opportunities for their employees to volunteer?

Yes as it gives people a chance to get to know each other in a more relaxed environment where job titles don’t matter. You can also develop skills that are applicable to your job, but that you don’t get to explore so much on a daily basis. These will definitely benefit the company as people feel they are more valued when given opportunities to learn and grow. This year, we have 3 teams taking on the Back Up Snowdon Push. It just shows that people from different departments can come together and work as a team, and that they are eager to volunteer – if given the opportunity.

It’s fantastic to have this support for our buddy programme from BMO. The combination of a financial contribution from a company and the employees volunteering their time ensures that Back Up can continue to offer these life-changing courses. If you’d like to volunteer as a corporate buddy, please contact our Corporate Partnerships Manager, Sean McCallion,  on 020 8875 6747 or email sean@backuptrust.org.uk.  

Richard’s Story | Giving people a new lease of life

Richard’s Story | Giving people a new lease of life

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 teaching other trainers on our train-the-trainer course

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.’

Richard (left) on Over 50s course with Calvert Trust instructor and course participant

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.

To find out about all our volunteering opportunities, please contact Merryn (Merryn@backuptrust.org.uk) or give her a call on 020 8875 6741.

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.

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.

Lucy Duncombe: Volunteering at Back Up’s Youth Advisory Group Weekend

Lucy Duncombe: Volunteering at Back Up’s Youth Advisory Group Weekend

This month of our 30th anniversary year, we are turning the spotlight on the amazing children and young people affected by spinal cord injury who help us shape and deliver our services. 

We are delighted that Active Assistance is the official sponsor of the children & young people month. They support people with complex and continuing health care needs. Their philosophy is based on the principles that each person should be enabled to live a fulfilling life to their own potential. 

Here, Lucy Duncombe, Clinical Development Manager at Active Assistance, tells a bit more about her experience volunteering at one of Back Up’s Youth Advisory Group training weekends.

Why did you decide to volunteer with Back Up on the Youth Advisory Group training weekend?

I have been privileged to work with young people with spinal cord injury for nine years now and always wanted to work with Back Up. Family commitments always got in the way but this year I promised I would commit to one event. I did not expect the Back Up bug would bite me! Instead I have joined Back Up twice this year and I have already put my name down for the Youth Advisory Group weekend in 2017.

What did you get out of the experience?   

My mind was blown! I have been a children’s nurse since 2003. In my “day job” at Active Assistance, I get to meet amazing children and young people with complex health needs or disabilities for whom every day is a challenge, but the Youth Advisory Group took it to another level.

genuinely wasn’t prepared for the amazing energy at the weekends – proof that disability isn’t a deal breaker, it’s more a change in the scenery.

My highlight will always be Beth and I performing our own “special” rendition of the classic of Fresh Prince of Bell Air to the group. We thought we were epic….alas they were all speechless. Sadly neither of us have a record contract to date!

What benefits do you see young people getting from this experience?

Life as a young person is a challenge. So many decisions, responsibilities and pressures. The Youth Advisory Group provides an open and honest forum for young people  – a chance to be part of something more than your injury. It’s  all about you and what you want to share with the group, whether that’s rugby, graphic design, wheelies or tops tips on GCSE revision.

It’s a chance to be with people on a similar journey to you, to talk about what really matters to you.

What would you say to other personal assistants who are thinking of doing something similar?

When are you free?! Genuinely the best 2 weekends of 2016. As a mum, it meant being away from my family for a weekend but when I got back home, I asked my 5-year-old how he felt about me being away. He said:

“If it makes them happy then you must feel happy too”.

I can’t say it any better myself. I gave a little but I feel I got so much more.

Top tips on getting the most out of the weekend or other Back Up courses to other PAs?

Just be yourself, come with energy and enthusiasm, and Back Up will provide the rest. We cooked, baked and laughed. Each weekend, I was supported by two Back Up team members and they were a delight to work with. The energy and passion of Back Up shines through each and every member of their team.

Inspired by Lucy’s story? Volunteer as a nurse or personal assistant on one of our courses. Find out more information here

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”