Iam delighted to introduce our new impact report and show you what Back Up has been doing to inspire people affected by spinal cord injury to get the most out of life.

I’m incredibly proud to tell you that we supported over 1,000 people affected by spinal cord injury last year. Every day, I hear stories of the lives that Back Up has touched – whether that’s someone rebuilding their confidence on one of our outdoor activity courses, pushing to the shops independently for the first time, or just saying at the end of a call that they no longer felt like they were in this alone.

In this report, you will read the stories of seven people we helped last year. Their stories were made possible by our wonderful fundraisers, donors and corporate sponsors who bring in more money each year to support our vital work. Their tireless efforts saw Back Up raise £1,682,167 – the most income in our history.

For every staff member here, we estimate that there are around 10 volunteers supporting our work in a multitude of ways. They are the lifeblood of Back Up, delivering the services that make a huge difference to so many people’s lives.

To each and every one of you who gives their time or money, I want to thank you for all that you do and encourage you to read on to see the difference your contribution makes. If you’ve never supported Back Up before, please join us as we work towards a world where everyone affected by spinal cord injury can realise their full potential.

Sarah Bryan | CEO

Sarah Bryan | CEO

impact in

Thank you for
making our vital
work possible.

We registered 791 new people with a spinal cord injury and 148 family members to receive our support

people were trained in wheelchair skills in hospitals

of people felt more confident in their abilities after a Back Up wheelchair skills session

of family members felt more supported after attending one of our relatives’ days

people attended one of our residential courses which help you to learn new skills and develop your confidence in a supportive environment

people were matched with a trained mentor to help them make positive changes in their lives

of people achieved their personal aims for their mentoring relationship

people were supported by telephone on topics like travel, relationships, bladder management and work

of people who attended our Back Up to Work course felt that work with a spinal cord injury is more manageable

children and young people with a spinal cord injury were supported at different stages of their education and all of them felt happier after receiving Back Up’s help


‘‘     When she said, ‘it does get better,’ something just clicked. Someone who has gone through it saying that to you is so important.’’

‘‘    When she said, ‘it does get better,’ something just clicked. Someone who has gone through it saying that to you is so important.’’

When Martin came home from hospital, I called Back Up. I had been functioning fine till then, keeping busy and sorting out the move to the new flat, but I really wanted to know the practical stuff – what will life look like, will we be able to travel – and how other people dealt with what we were going through once they got home.

I was put in touch with a great volunteer mentor who didn’t sugar coat things. They were living a fully functioning life, but they still had their struggles.

When she said, “it does get better,” something just clicked. When you’re in a rut and you have no one to talk to, someone who has gone through it saying that to you is so important. That’s when things started turning around. I did have counselling, in the early days, but it didn’t work for me - the lady didn’t have experience of spinal cord injury. It makes a huge difference when you speak to someone who can understand what it’s like.

Before his accident, it felt like Martin and I were living separate lives. We’re much closer now and our relationship is stronger too. We’ve also just had our first daughter. We were really lucky that the IVF worked for us. She’s given us such a boost.


‘‘     Back Up is like a safety net. And if you fall, it’s alright because Back Up have got you and will support you to start your life again.’’

‘‘    Back Up is like a safety net. And if you fall, it’s alright because Back Up have got you and will support you to start your life again.’’

I first met Back Up during my rehabilitation. At the time, I felt like I shouldn’t ask for help because I had just started to walk and everyone else was using a wheelchair.

Back Up got through to me that there is support for everyone, whether you use a wheelchair or not. It’s really nice to know you fit in somewhere. And when I heard about their Back Up to Work course, I thought that was just what I needed because my job at the time involved a lot of heavy lifting that I couldn’t do anymore.

It was so useful to learn how to talk about your disability to employers. At what point do I say I can’t walk long distances or I need a wheelchair at times? It was learning when and how to raise it so employers know how to accommodate you. After the course, I felt like I could beat the world.

I’ve got a great new job working in pastoral care at a church now, much closer to home and my kids, and I’m really cracking on with life. There’s a gap between where you are when you arrive home, and the life that you want to start living. Back Up is like the safety net underneath. And if you fall, it’s alright because Back Up have got you and will support you to start your life again.


‘‘     It was particularly special to me as it was the first time I met and got to know other people with a spinal cord injury.’’

‘‘    It was particularly special to me as it was the first time I met and got to know other people with a spinal cord injury.’’

When I was just a baby, I had a condition called epiglottitis. This left a blood clot on my spinal cord which caused my injury.

I first heard about Back Up when I got to junior school. At the time, I was looking to improve my wheelchair skills so I could go out with my friends and get around.

My mum contacted the physiotherapist at my spinal centre about training, and they put us in touch with Back Up. The first thing I did with them was the youth advisory group weekend.

It was such a fun few days. I got to share stories and learn new skills like one-handed pushing and reversing backwards. It was particularly special to me as it was the first time I met and got to know other people with a spinal cord injury.

I then went on one of their activity courses, trying out abseiling and canoeing! I loved the campfire dinner and even learned a much better way of how to get up and down kerbs and stairs.

Back Up have helped me make new friends, and improved my confidence and public speaking. They showed me what was possible with a spinal cord injury, so I started to volunteer when I was 13 to help other young people get more confident and learn new skills.


‘‘     I’ll be forever grateful to Back Up for turning my life around.’’

‘‘    I’ll be forever grateful to Back Up for turning my life around.’’

M y accident happened on 4 May 2014 at home on the trampoline with my son. I did a back flip, which I had done many times before, but this time I landed badly and broke my neck – leaving me paralysed from the chest down.

I met Back Up during my rehabilitation and they encouraged me to apply for their skiing course in Sweden. I felt completely out of my comfort zone when I was dropped off at the airport, but the positivity of the volunteers and other participants encouraged me so much.

I’d spent a lot of time skiing in Norway when I was an Arctic warfare instructor in the military, and I really thought I’d never ski again. But Back Up showed me there’s no boundaries to what you can do.

Before Sweden, I’d got myself into a rut and wasn’t leaving the house. Now I can pick my kids up from school and go have fun with them. It gave me my confidence back.

I’ll be forever grateful to Back Up for turning my life around. I’m planning a holiday with my partner and children to Egypt next year. I haven’t been away with my children since the accident, and I think it’s going to be a massive experience.


‘‘     Back Up have been a lifeline for me, and just knowing that they’re there if I need them makes things easier.’’

‘‘    Back Up have been a lifeline for me, and just knowing that they’re there if I need them makes things easier.’’

For over 30 years, I’ve led an exciting career as a marine biologist. I’ve also been really active in my community, and I even set up a local historical charity.

Then last year, my life changed completely. I had a bacterial infection 20 years ago which affected the tissues around my spinal cord, leading to a progressive decline in my mobility. In 2017, I had four major operations to halt the deterioration, but the last one left me with a permanent spinal cord injury.

I first met Back Up at my spinal centre, and they stayed in touch when I left the hospital. After being at home for six months, I felt like I lost the confidence and skills I’d gained during my rehabilitation. So, I decided to go on Back Up’s over 50s multi-activity course to push my boundaries in a safe environment. I couldn’t have made a better decision.

I learned so much just by talking to other people on the course and sharing experiences. The skills instructors were brilliant too, and they helped me set up my wheelchair correctly and improve my confidence. I learned that you can still enjoy doing things like canoeing and getting outdoors. You just have to approach them differently.

Back Up have been a lifeline for me, and just knowing that they’re there if I need them makes things easier.


‘‘     I’ve been able to travel to places I haven’t visited before, and enjoy the freedom that my new wheelchair skills bring.’’

‘‘    I’ve been able to travel to places I haven’t visited before, and enjoy the freedom that my new wheelchair skills bring.’’

In the early years after my injury, I’d been able to walk with a stick. But my mobility deteriorated and I started to struggle with fatigue, so I eventually began using a wheelchair in 2009. My skills were really basic though, and I didn’t feel confident using my chair. I found Back Up through an online forum and decided to go on their City Skills course. I thought it would push me to improve my skills, as Edinburgh is an old city with lots of cobbled streets.

The trainers gave me some great practical tips on how to tackle things like kerbs and uneven pavements. Meeting the buddies and participants was brilliant too. You can have an injury for years and years, and still learn things from other people. Everybody really just mucked in and I had so much fun.

The course helped me to overcome my fears about travelling too. In fact, I just did a long haul flight to Hong Kong last month. I hadn’t done that journey in about eight years and speaking to people about how they travelled was so helpful and gave me the motivation to start doing it again.

Going on the Back Up course was one of the best decisions I ever made. I’ve been able to travel to new places, and enjoy the freedom that my new wheelchair skills bring.


‘‘     When I hear from a mentee that I’ve helped them, it lights me up inside.’’

‘‘    When I hear from a mentee that I’ve helped them, it lights me up inside.’’

On 5 May 2013, I was coming out of my bathroom at home when I passed out and fell over, causing me to hyperextend my neck. When I came to, I couldn’t feel my hands and was initially paralysed from the waist down.

After some time at a local hospital, I spent 10 weeks at the Stoke Mandeville spinal centre. The team there were great, and the more I gave, the more I got in return.

The staff there mentioned Back Up’s courses so I reached out to them because I wanted to meet other people with a spinal cord injury to see how they coped after they went home. I went on the multi-activity course in the Lake District which was incredible. Speaking to the other participants and volunteers showed me that everyone can adapt to a new situation. Back Up show you that there’s so much you can still do and achieve with a spinal cord injury.

In 2017, I became a volunteer mentor which has given me a chance to help other people with a spinal cord injury gain a more positive outlook. I absolutely love it. When I hear from a mentee that I’ve helped them, it lights me up inside. If my experience can inspire and motivate one person, it’s all worthwhile.

Life has changed immeasurably, but I’ve got a lot to be thankful for.

difference our
volunteers make

Our vital work is made possible by a passionate army of over 400 volunteers whose contribution is felt at all levels of the charity. Back Up was founded by volunteers and, to this day, volunteering remains at the heart of everything we do.

Our volunteers spent 911 hours delivering wheelchair skills and patient education sessions

Volunteer mentors spent 1,400 hours supporting people to make positive changes in their lives

Office volunteers gave 4,110 hours of their time to provide fundraising and administrative support

Our courses volunteers amassed 7,060 hours as group leaders, buddies, nurses and personal assistants (PAs)

Under 18s volunteers spent 395 hours shaping and influencing our services for children and young people

Volunteers on our Back Up to Work courses gave 1,080 hours to help people work towards their employment goals

Back Up’s mentor trainers committed 144 hours to deliver comprehensive training and guidance to mentors

Our education advocates gave 194 hours of their time to support children and young people with a spinal cord injury

Our family volunteers gave us 200 hours of their time to support family members of people with a spinal cord injury at spinal centres

Our trustees dedicated 240 hours to govern Back Up and shape the charity’s future

Last year, we estimate that our volunteers contributed almost
17,000 hours
to our work. A heart-felt thank you to each and every volunteer for all you do to support Back Up.

How we raised
our money

As Back Up receives no government funding, we rely entirely on our fantastic supporters, fundraisers, corporate sponsors and charitable trusts to make our work possible. We simply couldn’t do it without them.

Our supporters, including 280 committed regular givers, donated £122,000 to Back Up.

20 people told us that they had remembered Back Up in their wills.

We received £13,000 in donations in the memory of loved ones.

337 fundraisers ran, cycled, pushed and kayaked their way to raise £221,000 in challenge events for Back Up.

Over 70 companies raised £346,000 through sponsorship of our services, as well as corporate events and office fundraising.

Over 800 guests attended our exciting major events which raised over £305,000 towards Back Up’s vital services

75 charitable trusts, including the Big Lottery Fund, generously gave us a total of £559,000 to fund our services.

We received £13,000 from 32 schools and clubs and £39,000 from people holding their own events.

Last year, we raised
towards our work. To all the wonderful people and organisations who contributed to Back Up, we want to thank you on behalf of everyone who benefits from your support.

for the future

Everything we do is driven by the needs of people affected by spinal cord injury. We listen to what the people we support tell us to ensure our services remain relevant and have the greatest impact possible.

We recognise that meeting people early on is key to helping them make a positive long-term adjustment to spinal cord injury, and so we will be focusing on maximising our presence at general hospitals and spinal cord injury centres next year to make those vital connections.

With the unprecedented level of demand for our family support service, we’ve expanded it to support even more family members. If the whole family is supported, everyone is more likely to adjust well – including the individual with the injury. We’ve also increased our resource for spinal cord injury and family mentoring to account for the increasing number of referrals. And with a larger team, we’ll be able to make more high-quality mentoring matches.

As the only UK charity with dedicated services for children and young people with a spinal cord injury, we’re continuing to drive forward a collaborative project to establish a young person’s care pathway – ensuring all under 18s can receive specialist care at a UK spinal centre.

In 2018/19, we will be consolidating the range of courses we offer. We’ll continue to run a diverse course programme that meets the unique needs of many different people with a spinal cord injury – offering life skills, outdoor activities and more. We want everyone to have the opportunity to access our courses, and we’ll be alternating our Sweden and Colorado ski programmes annually to ensure people with all levels of injury can experience the freedom of life on the slopes.


We value the support of every individual and organisation, no matter how big or small their donation, but we’d like to mention a few who really went the extra mile this year.


Helen Cooke
David Fraser
Rebecca Hill (Chair)
Crispin Longden (Vice Chair)
Anne Luttman-Johnson
Martine Petetin
Claire Pimm
Richard Smith (Hon Treasurer)
Ben Sneesby
Rebecca Stevenson
Dr Clair Turnbull
Joanna Wright


Jeremy Adam
John Adams
Sue Adams
Rasha Al-Lamee
Julie Allen
Mark Armour
Helen Beattie
Chirsty Bennett
Paul Brand
Catherine Calder
Heath Callan
Simon Clark
Jeremy Cowdrey
Debbie Cragg
Timothy Crome
Ian Curtis
Liza Curtis
Stuart Dench
Jean Egbunike
David Elswood
Sarah Elwes
Rick Englert
David Fraser
Noel Greaves-Lord
Alastair Gornall
Peter Grant
Ashley Heppenstall
John Holroyd
Neil Jarman
Lisa Kenna
Jane Kirkby
David and Karen Kremer
Vikram Kumar
Janice Marlton
Jos Matthews
Gerard McDermott
Noel McGonigle
Alison Mennecier
Nick and Karen Millar
Dominique Montier
John Morgan
Allan Murray
Matt Newman
Paul Newrick
Chris Oliver
Sarah Oughton
Stewart Parvin
Rhiannon Phenis
Chris Rauch
Jane and Simon Rogan
Nigel and Margot Russell
Alan Russell
Jo Sheasby
Rob Shelton
Mary Skinner
Mark Somerset
Malene Sweeney
Anne Urban
Richard Wilson
Patrick Woodall
Anthony Wreford
Jo Wright
Robert Yeung


Aspire Law
Big Yellow
Bolt Burdon Kemp
Irwin Mitchell
Leigh Day
Rolls Royce
Russell Cooke
Stewarts Law
XL Catlin


Konrad Bartelski
Martin Bell
Barbara Broccoli
Eric Lanlard
Sophie Morgan
Mike Nemesvary
Jess Stock

Trusts and Foundations

Awards For All
BBC Children In Need
Big Lottery Fund – Reaching Communities and Improving Lives Grants
CHK Charities Ltd
John Horniman’s Children’s Trust
POM Charitable Trust
R.U.B. White Charitable Trust
St James’s Place Charitable Foundation
The Alice Ellen Cooper Dean Charitable Foundation
The Baxter International Foundation
The Bruce Wake Charitable Trust
The C L Loyd Charitable Trust
The Charles Skey Charitable Trust
The City Bridge Trust
The Henry Smith Charity
The Hugh Fraser Foundation
The Joan Strutt Charitable Trust
The Motability Tenth Anniversary Trust
The Persula Foundation
The Rothschild Foundation
The Ryvoan Trust
The Shanly Foundation
The Sobell Foundation
The William Allen Young Charitable Trust

We’d like to thank Chris Marchant and Guy Harrop for providing the photographic images used in this impact report.