Tom’s story: Returning to education


In 2013 I had been living in China for three years studying Mandarin and Kung Fu. I literally had the best life and was ridiculously happy. I studied Chinese in the mornings, then Kung Fu in the afternoons. I filled my spare time teaching English to local kids, took some dance classes (I could pop and lock with the best of them) and trained in taekwondo in the evenings.

Then in July 2013 I fell from a second floor window and fractured my lumbar spine.  The accident left me paralysed from the waist down. Overnight I went from being a super fit individual capable of any physical activity, to being unable to move my legs. Needless to say I was fairly stunned, but I tried to hold onto my positive attitude and I was determined to make the best of things. I travelled back to the UK for rehabilitation at the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. There I learned how to get around in a wheelchair and began the long process of trying to walk again.

For the next two years after leaving the hospital I received calls from staff at Back Up to check on my progress, helping me to feel connected and letting me know that although I was getting on with rehab on my own, there were people out there who cared and understood what I was going through.

To be honest, I can’t remember the specifics of what we talked about as I have a tendency to waffle, but it was good to have someone at the end of the phone.

In June of this year I decided to move to London to do a masters degree. I chose to go back to university as I felt that my rehabilitation had reached a point where I could get back into the real world and also cope with the pain from my injury. I was a little nervous but mostly excited, after going through my injury I figured I could handle just about anything. I really enjoy learning new things and I thought the experience would be very interesting and make me more employable!

Before the degree started, I wanted to stretch myself by working in an office environment. I immediately thought of Back Up and contacted them to do some volunteering.

It was an awesome experience. Firstly, it was rewarding as I knew that in a small way I was helping to make a difference to the lives of others with a spinal cord injury. Secondly, and rather selfishly, it was also brilliant for me: I got the benefits of establishing a new routine, going into work and chatting with colleagues (I had forgotten how much I missed office banter), testing myself to see how well my body coped with working for extended periods and generally being part of a community again. I also got to use different financial software (geeky I know, but interesting).

I had so much fun as the Back Up staff are all great people who made me feel very welcome – receiving a good luck card and round of applause on my last day was completely unexpected and very touching.

The routine, socialising, community and all other aspects of volunteering prepared me well for the next step of going back to university. My first day was a lot less nervy than I expected as I had already proven to myself that I was comfortable in new situations meeting new people. Volunteering at Back Up helped me enormously and I hope to continue helping out in the future.

If you are interesting in volunteering  at Back Up’s office, contact Kat (, or Merryn ( To find out about our other volunteering opportunities, click here.