Building a Life

May 3, 2011

Three years to the day after breaking my back I moved into the Lodge at Heatherley Cheshire Home. Two years in limbo living in Brockham had allowed me to take stock, understand my abilities and think of where I could go in life. Now it was time to start building a life. I moved here for three reasons. For the community (or family) that stems from our founder, Leonard Cheshire, for the opportunity that the land provided and to live for a token level of rent in return for what I did around the Cheshire Home.

Funnily enough it was not so much a new life as a rejuvenation of the old life. I’d spent my twenties striving to find a better way of living and a meaningful way of employment, but never managed to escape the rat race. The extortionate cost of putting a roof over your head tends to lead us all to abandon our ideals and enter into long hours of employment just to enjoy the comforts that civilization brings. After years of endeavouring to avoid this trap I had all but resigned myself to doing just that, hence the work that I was doing that led to an accident in which I became a paraplegic.

It’s sad that I had to become paralysed to embark upon the life I’d dreamed of, but this is exactly what happened. I’d struck up a deal with the Cheshire Home. I suggested that I could get the woodwork shop going again, keep some animals around the place and do some gardening with the residents, in recognition of which, I got to live in the Lodge, not quite for free, but not far off. The opportunity to put my skills to good use, to help others, gave purpose to my life once more and the potential for a country cottage and smallholding was a dream come true!

My mother described the Lodge as ‘virtually derelict and unfit for human habitation’, but she wasn’t worried about me, she knew I’d survive and knew I was in my element. She wasn’t far wrong though. It hadn’t been touched much since the sixties, when a bathroom extension had been built, and it was badly in need of renovation. Looking back it amazes me how the charity ever allowed me to move in. These days the Cheshire Home comes much more under the central control of the charity and ‘health and safety’ would ensure that I didn’t have the opportunity; so I got my foot in the door just in time.

To start with it was tough. All my effort had to be put into making the cottage work for me and to stop it falling to bits any more than it already was. I didn’t dare ask the charity for help for fear of them wanting to charge more rent. However, as soon as the basis of a sustainable way of living in the cottage was established, I set to work on projects around the Cheshire Home. There was a ramshackle old shed that had been used in the past for woodwork and I soon sorted it out and embarked upon making things with a few of the residents. The greenhouse wasn’t being looked after so I tidied it up and started growing some vegetables. A girl that lived here wanted a pet ferret and, as I’d often fancied keeping ferrets myself, I agreed to go in on it with her. I built a two storey hutch and bought two young ferrets for it. Tracy loved it.

My garden at the Lodge was another big project. When I moved in the first half of the garden was three foot high grass. The back of the garden was an impenetrable mass of brambles and it wasn’t until I started to clear them that I realised they were hiding a huge rat infested rubbish tip. The old maintenance man had lived here for years and all the rubbish, building materials, car parts, you name it, it was there, he had simply thrown at the back of the garden. This one I needed help with, so I got some mates in with a mini digger to clear the whole garden, dig in the tracks for paths and start me with a clean slate.

Life went on in this fashion for a couple of years, but it wasn’t all going how I’d hoped. The majority of residents are very seriously disabled and it was proving difficult to involve them in activities. Despite completing some major building jobs to the Lodge, rescuing the porch from collapse and putting a beam in the kitchen to take out one side of the chimney breast etc, there was still so much to do and the project was daunting. On top of this, not only did the new manager lack the will to support me in my endeavours, but she denied that any arrangement had ever been made. As far as she was concerned I only paid a low level of rent for the Lodge because it was in need of renovation. And so began a long drawn out battle with management. At one point the regional director wanted me to move out so they could spend £25,000 on building work before charging a commercial level of rent! I refused, and finally, with the intervention of our trustee, I won and we did things my way.

Twelve years after moving here I’m glad to say the life I dreamed of has been built. There is still work to do to the cottage and garden, but it adequately provides for my needs. The smallholding is up and running with Soay sheep in the field out the back and geese keeping the grass down in other areas. I had to abandon organized activities with the residents, but there are those I look out for and help on a personal level and I manage the orchid meadow and its flower bed for the pleasure of all. My work these days is ABR therapy, primarily for my own rehabilitation, but also as important research and development work for the future of the spinally injured and health in general (hence the website and blog to make this work known). In terms of my rehabilitation, the importance of building a life cannot be underestimated. With such a long term approach to rehabilitation, I think I would go insane if my life was about nothing more than my physical health. The way of life I have developed compliments my physical rehabilitation so that I may grow in body and spirit.

Finally I have recently embarked upon a new venture. At the end of my lane is a secure unit for children. They’re not criminals, but are locked up for there own safety so that they may put their lives back on track. I was approached and asked if I would keep some animals in the grounds, in order to show the kids another side of life, and so this year I’m building a compound there to house a few sheep. This, essentially, is everything I was trying to achieve at the Cheshire Home, but it didn’t work with disabled people. Let’s hope it works with kids.


  1. I have multiple sclorosis and not a spinal injury but this sounds so wonderful. A chance for pepople to regain some hope of something for their future even a germanating seed.
    It sounds like many of the things that I dreamed of for my future and you have got them for your future and through your hard work and am sure the hard work of others

  2. […] texto es una traducción de la entrada disponible en https://spinalroots.wordpress.com/2011/05/03/building-a-life/, publicada por primera vez el 3 de mayo de […]

  3. […] texto es una traducción de la entrada disponible en https://spinalroots.wordpress.com/2011/05/03/building-a-life/, publicada por primera vez el 3 de mayo de […]

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