Back Up to Work: Alex's story


"Finding employment is not only possible, but should not be any harder than before my accident."

Alex was left paralysed in August 2011, resulting in a total loss of all feeling and movement from the waist down. He writes for Back Up and about how the Back Up to Work course helped him to rebuild his confidence and independence. 
After falling from a bicycle in August 2011, I sustained a complete spinal cord injury. I spent a week in hospital in Liege, Belgium, where I had my accident. I was then flown to Stoke Mandeville spinal cord injury centre to complete two and a half months of intensive rehabilitation learning to adapt to life in a wheelchair.

I first heard about Back Up when they ran a wheelchair skills course at Stoke Mandeville whilst I was still an inpatient. After being discharged, I stayed in touch with Stuart, a Back Up mentos. He advised me on what to expect before returning to university and was happy to answer any of the many questions and concerns I had.

After finishing university, I spent a year unsuccessfully looking for work. I felt I had lost the skills required for work and it would be difficult to find employment in a wheelchair. At this point, I started volunteering for Back Up.

Whilst volunteering, the Back Up staff convinced me to attend a Back Up To Work course in London. At first I was sceptical and unsure what I could gain from it. I was told that during the course I would learn everything from reasonable adjustments by an employer, to learning about competencies and working on my CV. Having now completed the course, I am incredibly glad I followed through and attended.

Once at Savills, we were introduced to Becky, who ran the course. After a quick introduction, we kicked off the day with branding session on how we wanted to portray ourselves. I found this quite difficult as I find it hard to sell myself, but it was a useful exercise and good to be taken out of my comfort zone so early on.

One of the most useful tasks we were set was learning about competencies. It was explained why we would be asked certain questions in interviews and how to structure our CV to stand out. Understanding what employers were looking for was a huge step in knowing how I should answer certain questions. It taught me that I had many competencies from obscure non work related activities which could be used in my CV or during an interview.

Andy, one of Back Up’s staff, came and gave a talk on the second day. Andy spoke about his injury and his process of going back to work. It was encouraging that it was not too dissimilar to my situation. It was also helpful hearing a success story first hand, particularly on how finding employment is not only possible, but should not be any harder than before my accident.

We finished the weekend by having seven speed interviews from seven Savills staff. Each interview was five minutes long and covered one of four topics. Different questions were asked and this was probably the highlight of the week. We were able to put into practice all we had learned and we were able to practice our interview skills in a safe environment. 

Since the course, I have been amending my CV with help from Becky, who has been happy for me to email her different drafts. She has provided excellent feedback and suggestions  to make my CV more appealing to potential employers.

I now have a better idea about the type of work I want to go into and the process for finding a job. The course has taught me that I do have the relevant skills and competencies for employment, which may not necessarily come from previous work, but instead come from hobbies and other activities.

The next Back Up to Work course is taking place in Birmingham in July 2016. Find out more here