Jack’s story: Buddying on the Next Steps course

A group of our course participants alking through Manchester

A buddy is a volunteer who comes along to make sure everyone gets the best possible experience out of the course. Buddies are there to assist, listen to, and encourage all course group members – participants and fellow volunteers included.

Read on to find out how I found my time as a buddy, and to learn more about how our Next Steps course is absolutely vital for people with a spinal cord injury who can walk.

Day 1 (Friday): Travel, introductions, and pizza

Jack (left) helping plan the day ahead with our participants

The first day of the course began with us meeting the participants and group leaders in Manchester. What instantly struck me was the diversity of people attending the course. They had come from all walks of life and career backgrounds, from academic publishers to carpenters. The one thing that united them was the fact that they all had a spinal cord injury and were able to walk. Some people used wheelchairs, walking sticks and frames, and some used no aids at all.

After we had all got to know each other, it was time to go out for dinner. We had a table booked at a restaurant, just under a mile away from the hotel. Walking to the restaurant was a new challenge for some, especially when it came to getting over kerbs and crossing streets, but the buddies were there to provide support and encouragement. We soon reached the restaurant in good spirits and got stuck in to some well-deserved pizza.

Day 2 (Saturday): The People’s History Museum & bowling

A group of spinal cord injured participants exploring the People's History Museum

Our participants exploring the People’s History Museum

The second day started at the hotel’s breakfast buffet. Everyone was eager to get started with the first activity of the day, a visit to The People’s History Museum. This turned out to be an ideal venue to properly kick the weekend off, and not just because of the fascinating “Nothing About Us without Us” exhibition. There were plenty of places for our participants to sit down if they needed to, and it was totally accessible with lifts to all floors. Everyone was able to explore the museum at their own pace, with us buddies keeping an eye out if anyone needed any help or a chat.

Following the museum, we went on to our evening activity – Ten pin bowling. We split into two teams, slipped on our bowling shoes, and got started. One of the older participants on the course hadn’t been bowling in years, let alone after his injury. But by getting involved and setting his mind to it, he helped carry his team to victory!

Day 3 (Sunday): Challenge and fun

Two of our participants, one a wheelchair user and one walking with the aid of a frame, exploring the centre of manchester

Checking out the centre of Manchester was fun – as you can see!

The third day was possibly the most challenging, but also the most rewarding. We split ourselves into two teams and were given the task of a photo scavenger hunt through Manchester city centre. As a buddy, I helped navigate our group around the city, made sure everyone was coping well with the trek, and provided much-needed support and motivation.

The competitive task helped our participants get to know each other better while they explored the city. I think this quote from one of our participants sums up how useful the day was…

“It’s good to know that there’s people out there like me. Everyone is different and unique, but we’ve all have similar experiences with our injury. It’s given me a lot more confidence, and I feel like I can go out on my own now! ”

Day 4 (Monday) Discussions, evaluation, and losing a pub quiz by 1 point

Our group leaders in the meeting room, leading the last day of discussions on our Next Steps course

Our Group Leaders during the discussion

The final day was dedicated to holding a group discussion. Thanks to Irwin Mitchell, we had access to a fantastic meeting room space where our participants were able to discuss the issues that matter to them. Next Steps is all about our participants meeting other people with in a similar situation, and understanding how their injury affects them. We were able to cover a broad range of issues faced by spinal cord injured people who can walk. This included pain and fatigue management, bladder and bowel care and dealing with other people’s perceptions. By sharing their experiences and stories, our participants learned that they weren’t alone.

We also encouraged everyone to tell us how they found the course itself. It let them reflect on what they had achieved, and what could have been done better. Having feedback from our participants is absolutely vital, as it lets us shape and improve our future courses.

We then went out for our last meal – a curry followed by a pub quiz. The competitive edge from the previous day returned, and our team came close to sweeping the £50 bar tab prize – until I went and blew it at the last minute by failing the final question! Apparently, I didn’t have enough knowledge of TV trivia to sweep up the winnings.

The next morning, we were ready to go our separate ways. Hugs and phone numbers were shared and a few tears were shed, but everyone left in high spirits.  Everyone had their own reasons for attending the course, but they were leaving with the confidence needed to tackle the challenges they face in their day-to-day life.

Interested in buddying on a course? Get in touch with Karim