Brian Sirrel: Our oldest wheelchair skills trainer


Getting on the bus, going to the local shops or the pub, playing with your grandchildren in the park, or just safely carrying a cup of tea from the kitchen to your living room – that’s what wheelchair skills training is all about. Back Up’s wheelchair skills training sessions are delivered at all 11 spinal cord injury centres in the UK and on all our residential courses.

The sessions are led by volunteers who have personally experienced spinal cord injury, covering everything from pushing technique and back-wheel balancing to going up and down the stairs. Over 40 people of different ages and backgrounds volunteer their time to teach these vital skills to both manual and powered wheelchair users.

Brian Sirrel, a former football referee, was left permanently paralysed by a neurological condition. Now 80 years old, he is our oldest wheelchair skills trainer.

Brian first got involved with Back Up during his rehabilitation at Oswestry spinal cord injury centre. “I was told that I wouldn’t walk again so my physiotherapist told me to go to one of Back Up’s wheelchair skills sessions so I could learn how to use my wheelchair correctly.”

According to research, 87% of people who attend a wheelchair skills training session feel more confident and independent. Brian says Back Up helped him and his wife to keep on living their lives.

“Back Up has given me confidence and has given me the ability to manage a wheelchair on my own.”

After three sessions, one of Back Up’s wheelchair skills trainers asked Brian if he would like to attend a wheelchair skills training weekend at Calvert Trust. He didn’t think twice about it and immediately decided to go. “My wife and I went up there and that’s when we realised how much Back Up was doing. Not only what it did for me but what it did for other people who are going through particularly tough times.”

Brian officially started to volunteer as a wheelchair skills trainer in 2008 and he hasn’t looked back since. Since he started, Brian has met young and older people with completely different needs. He says it’s important for wheelchair skills trainers to adapt to all age groups. “Even though people have different abilities, they can learn skills to enable them to lead more independent lives,” Brian says.

“Most newly injured people using a wheelchair for the first time want to be more self sufficient, more independent and more confident. And they can all those things with the ability and knowledge of the wheelchair skills trainers.”

As an experienced wheelchair skills trainer, Brian has lots of tips to share with fellow wheelchair users who need support: “Do listen to what you’ve been told, watch how the wheelchair skills trainers react to different hazards and look at how they manage to get over them.”

For Brian, age is just a number. Over the coming years, he wants to keep on supporting Back Up and people whose lives have been changed after spinal cord injury. “My main ambition is to keep on helping others the best I can, to show them age is no barrier to whatever you want to do.”

Were you inspired by Brian’s story? Volunteer as a wheelchair skills trainer