Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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Workout

April 5, 2021

I went for a walk with a friend the other day in the Nower in Dorking; it’s public woods and grassland. We used to go sledging there as kids so as you can imagine it’s on the side of a hill and not very wheelchair friendly. I enjoyed the walk (or wheel), enjoyed the company and it was great to be trekking around my old stomping ground again. At the end I was exhausted and it was remarked that I’d had a good workout, but was it really good for me?

Gazebo at the top of the Nower

If I did it too often it wouldn’t be good, but now and then does me no physical harm and worth it for the other benefits, although to think of it as a workout would be wrong. In terms of improving my physical condition there is absolutely nothing to be gained by struggling in a wheelchair. To overcome paraplegia you have to be a lot cleverer than that. When my body was terribly depleted, physical exertion was definitely counter productive in terms of ingraining the changes and further deforming the body. In the few years after injury (before the ABR years) I did much damage in taking my body in the wrong direction and much time and effort has been invested since to reverse this. These days I am much stronger, and more capable, while at the same time I am more sensitive and tuned in to the counter productive nature of using my body beyond its limits and I tend to shy away from such activity.

When you live in a body with insufficient structure to support certain functions it is important to improve that underlying structure rather than struggle with function that abuses the already weak structure. The work we do is all about improving the underlying structure through external mechanical inputs, building it up to the point where function becomes possible. Only then, once the functional ability is achieved, does a workout become sensible. Such an approach should not only be adopted by the severely disabled, but also by the significant number of able bodied people who find themselves out of shape.

We get many joggers down our lane. The occasional one is in good shape and it’s a joy to see a body so capable of effortlessly moving at speed, although for most it is painful to watch their misguided attempts to improve their fitness. The other day there was a women with a distinct weakness at the lumbar sacral junction. Instead of a strong trunk supporting the pelvis and allowing true articulation at the hip joints, the hips were rigid and the body twisted at the waist with every step. The inputs into the body, from the reaction of each step against the ground, could ascend no further than that weakness and could only build up bulk around the already immobile hips. I see many joggers with hunched up shoulders, and head sunk down into the body, locking up the weakness in the neck and shoulder girdle in order to gain the stability to support the lower trunk and legs. Again no inputs can work up into the weakness, it’s too locked up.

One day I’ll teach people how to strengthen their structural weaknesses and get in shape to the point that they’re then in a position to jog with ease and have the capacity to build up their fitness.

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Cold

February 25, 2021

Fortitude is a word you rarely hear these days. Maybe we are all so mollycoddled by the wonders of our technological civilisation that we have little need to find the fortitude in us. Fortitude being ‘strength of mind that enables a person to encounter danger or bear pain or adversity with courage’. This winter I’ve been without a Rayburn which is normally the background heat throughout the cottage, that wonderful warmth when you enter through the back door into the kitchen, lashings of hot water and a great way of cooking. I’ve always enjoyed real log fires to keep me warm when sitting indoors, an open fire in the front room where I conduct my therapy sessions and a wood burner in my cosy living room. This year, though, that’s all I have. The Rayburn finally bit the dust at the beginning of winter and the reconditioned one that’s being made to order will not be delivered until 11th March. Last week was exceptionally cold, with temperatures barely rising above freezing, and it’s taken considerable fortitude to live comfortably, and a good store of well seasoned logs of course.

The great thing about living with the cold is that, not only does it take a strength of mind (or spirit), but in finding the fortitude to embrace the cold you find yourself imbued with a ‘strength of spirit’. My bathroom is a poorly insulated extension and although I am managing to maintain a slight background warmth throughout the rest of the cottage, the bathroom is absolutely freezing. Stripping off to take a wash takes fortitude and yet by rising to that fortitude I find myself all puffed up against the cold, easily attaining to a wonderful stature.

One of the most interesting things I have read about diet and nutrition was Rudolf Steiner’s lectures on the subject. He pointed out that if you eat meat your body is given the blueprint for manufacturing its own meat. If, however, you eat a vegetarian diet then your body does not have the luxury of the blueprint and so has to work harder to build and maintain your own meat. The interesting part was his statement that in working harder there is more strength to be gained, although he did point out that you have to be strong in the first place to live without the blueprint. Was he talking about gaining physical strength or a strength of spirit. Maybe the two are intrinsically connected, but either way I can draw parallels with living with the cold. It takes strength to live with the cold and if you can find that strength then you also find there is strength to be gained.

I grew up with central heating and never cared much for it, I always found that radiators gave a muggy kind of warmth, while many friends grew up with houses on the chilly side and a coal fire in the front room. You hear stories from people my age and older about how cold their houses were as a child and yet none of them seem to have suffered and maybe quite the opposite. These days people often sit in their houses in winter wearing no more than a t-shirt and I’ve good reason to think that, as a nation, we are getting softer. Not having a fire and a warm room to relax in would be unbearable and I’m looking forward to my new Rayburn for next winter. For the time being though I am rising to the challenge and enjoying the strength and vibrance that finding fortitude gives me. Even when I have my new Rayburn I won’t stop loving the great outdoors and will always embrace the cold and will never be too mollycoddled by the wonders of civilisation.

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C7

February 9, 2021

Paraplegia is usually defined as paralysis of the lower limbs. ‘Plegia’ means paralysis and ‘para’ meaning two (a twisting of the original Greek meaning of ‘besides’, as in one beside the other, leading to a pair and so two limbs). However, in order to truly understand paraplegia it is better to see it as characterised by the ‘missing back’. It is as though the posterior third of the trunk has been sliced off. My rehabilitation assessments have always been videoed and in the early days it was still analogue technology and video cassettes. Relatively poor quality from a home camcorder and so every so often a professional cameraman would come and film. He was a Russian who spoke no English so I had little idea of what he was saying. It turned out he was shocked at the lack of depth to my body. He described me as being like a playing card. From the front I looked fairly normal, while from the side I was flat. Nerve damage will paralyse the muscles in the legs, however, the collapse of the structure of the trunk, that should provide the foundation for the use of the legs, is what prevents the recovery of nerve function.

There is so much more depth to my body now and the back is really taking shape, although there is still some way to go and its capacity is still progressing through waves of development. Yesterday C7 disappeared. C7 is the lowest vertebrae in the neck and in a well developed body is always prominent. It is at the transition form the convex curve of the cervical spine, in the neck, to the concave curve of the thoracic spine of the chest and back region. When I was as flat as a playing card there was no prominence of C7 and during waves of development it has appeared, disappeared and reappeared again. As the neck gains more depth it disappears and when this is followed by the back catching up, and gaining more depth, it reappears. It would have been interesting to notch up a record of how many waves of development there have been. It would be in the hundreds. Not thousands but definitely hundreds. At times these waves of development were happening twice a week, but with the back very much nearer completion they happen less often, though no less significant with each wave building up a new layer of structure.

It is interesting to see that the lack of prominence of C7 is not confined to paraplegics and is also evident in some able bodied people. Although not severe enough to prevent the use of the legs it is nonetheless a lack of development with inevitable consequences. This is particularly noticeable in those with ADHD where the lack of physical capacity results in the lack of capacity to remain focused. I came across such children while working at a Secure Children’s Unit and although I am no longer involved it remains an ambition of mine to one day use my skills, in developing a physical body, to help young people overcome their difficulties.

With these waves of development in the past I noticed minimal effect on my stature and it was only by feeling for the prominence of C7 that I knew what was happening. Now though the disappearance of C7 leaves me with a profound inability to hold my head high while it is preceded, and after a while succeeded, by an incredible natural ability to do just that. The closer we get to building those final outer layers of the trunk, the closer I get to feeling for the body’s true stature.

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Sacrum

January 23, 2021

I had a job to do today to screw a hook on an internal door in my cottage. There is a bench in front of the door which is part of how I move around indoors (see blog post ‘The Heart of the Home’) . I thought maybe I could sit on the bench, but needed to be higher. I could have found something to put on top of the bench to sit on, but with nothing to hand I decided to try doing the job in high kneeling.

High kneeling is a position that has been possible for many years, right from the early days of injury, although it has never been a functional position. I used to have little quality to the trunk in general, even less in the lumbar region, virtually none in the pelvis and a definite disconnection at the lumbar sacral junction. Even sitting used to involve propping my body on top of collapsed pelvic structure, so the more demanding position of high kneeling was nothing but propping myself up. My lifeless pelvis would tilt drastically forwards resulting in severe flexion of the lumbar spine and discomfort in the weakness (disconnection) at the lumbar sacral junction. It would take all my effort with both arms just to hold myself there.

This type of structural weakness, with tilted pelvis and arched back, is common in many people with varying disabilities and is also notable in a significant portion of the able bodied population, to a lesser degree. I caught the news the other day where a disabled child had undergone a miracle operation (so to speak) to enable him to walk for the first time in his life. He was wobbling along using crutches with the arching of his back so severe that it was painful to watch. Having never been on his feet the kid thought it was great, although in reality he had simply swapped one struggle for another that was potentially even harder. It was only the use of crutches that kept him on his feet and the importance of ensuring there is sufficient underlying structure to support the bodily position cannot be over emphasised. It is often the case with disabled people that they attain to positions and actions that are beyond the structural capacity of their bodies; mainly through endeavour to live life, the best they can, but also through a desire to push beyond their boundaries.

My work in bio-mechanics has led me to expand the boundaries, through improving structural capacity, rather than to seek to push beyond them, although I am guilty at times of exceeding those boundaries and screwing the hook on the door, in high kneeling, is one such example. What surprised me this time, though, was the involvement of the sacrum. I’ve never known that feeling before, nor such capability. I wasn’t sure it would work, but found I could use my left elbow, against the door, to hold myself up and still use my left hand to hold the screw, while using the screwdriver with my right. With new structural capacity in the sacrum the right side of my body held well and only the weaker left side wanted to collapse.

I have been improving my body for years and for a long time now the sacrum has played a functional role in sitting. Now for the first time it is strong enough to begin playing a functional role in the more demanding position of high kneeling. I have every reason to believe I will continue to improve, while finding new strengths never ceases to amaze me.

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Back to Normal

January 7, 2021

Since my teenage years I have been shouting for change, singing along to the punk rock anthems. Now we are finally faced with the prospect of change I’m not sure we like what is happening. Not that it’s the possibility of change I don’t like, but the actions of government that seek to control and tell us what to do. It rather epitomises all that I’ve ever shouted against.

We certainly live in extraordinary times. Who would have ever thought that our government, who for ever have been hell bent on achieving economic growth, would destroy livelihoods, bankrupt businesses and collapse an economy in the name of keeping people safe. I don’t for one minute doubt there is a new disease across the world. I do, though, wonder if such measures are a sensible approach to addressing the situation. I know little of virology and am no expert in health, although I have learnt much during twenty years working in the field of bio-mechanics and have managed to transform my body and my health. I have learnt that health is a product of three factors. The quality of the body, the quality of the environment and the quality of the interaction between the two (the manner in which we live our lives). I have also learnt that there are no quick fixes.

I went through my initial rehabilitation in a specialist spinal unit at an NHS hospital. The care was wonderful. However, if I accepted their prognosis, and their guidance for my further rehabilitation and care, I would still be in the terrible condition I left hospital in. What is more, having found a better way I can’t go back and show them what is possible. I’ve tried and might as well just bang my head against a brick wall. Their educations doesn’t allow them to understand. If I could find a doctor or physiotherapist who does understand then there is nothing they could do within their profession. Their job is to follow a set practice and the opportunity for developing a new approach is extremely limited. Embracing the phenomenal way of rehabilitation that I have helped prove is possible is simply not possible within the NHS in Britain. The health establishment has become lazy in its thinking. Despite its amazing surgical ability, and capability to save life, it is so conservative, and its thinking stuck so far in the past, that it dogmatically follows a blinkered path. You’ll forgive me if I hold little faith in the health establishments ability to support the nations health right now.

Luckily we live in the age of the ‘freedom of the individual’ and it is the personal responsibility of each and every one of us to seek the knowledge and understanding to care for our own health and make our own choices. I for one will not be bullied by our government. Apparently, though, if we all get vaccinated then life can return to normal! I long for true social living once again. Food and drink, music, dance and theatre, hugging and kissing. All that is integral to being human, eternal and questionable whether lawful to prohibit. As for everything else that might be considered normal, I think the isolation and separation, the technologisation and commercialisation, that we are living with in lockdown, is the ultimate expression of where that normal has been leading us for quite some time. I have no desire to go back and will keep shouting for change.

Power to the People

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Multi-Layered Creatures

December 1, 2020

I was logging last Friday. I do love a real fire and, since my Rayburn packed up, logs are my only source of heating this winter. I always have the dilemma, though, of finding the balance between enjoying the vibrant, hard working activity of collecting cutting and splitting logs and going easy on my body. My left shoulder is the weakest link and if I work it too hard it will never come good despite the therapy work I put into it. By the time I finished working I was a little concerned, but then all of a sudden, by Friday evening, my body felt fantastic. Any shoulder aches were gone, I felt solid, trim and mobile. It’s not the first time I’ve had such feeling of physical well being. It wasn’t the result of hard work logging, but a phase in the cycle of wave after wave of development as we build up layer upon layer to reconstruct a depleted, collapsed and damaged body.

To explain I’d like to use the onion analogy. If you cut an onion in half you’ll see it has many layers just as our bodies do. However, if the onion is allowed to rot then the layers become lost and the flesh turns to mush. That’s a way of describing one aspect of a body post spinal injury. You become an amorphous mass lacking structure, divisions, connections and layers. As we work on my body we build volume and attachments. When you get to the point in the cycle of a wave where the wave reaches further up the beach, in the incoming tide, then you have that new found form, strength and articulation to a degree not experienced before, at least not since being able bodied. Then the wave recedes.

The wave has to recede and draw back into the main body in order for the next wave to reach even further up the beach. This is the building of a new layer. That outer experience of increased strength and volume becomes lost as it descends deep into the body to become consolidated into another layer. That new layer improving the foundation upon which the next wave of development is based. I say ‘becomes lost’ as that’s literally how it feels. You’ve worked hard to gain that increase in volume or improved articulation and then all of a sudden it’s gone. Volume can disappear overnight, be it volume at the top of the chest, engulfing the collar bones, disappearing to leave the collar bones protruding again or muscular bulk to the legs disappearing to expose the bone once again. This latest wave of development was characterised by a real trimness to the body and improved pelvic articulation. Another recent wave brought greater strength in the head neck junction giving a wonderful sense of uprightness.

The latest wave is receding now with the seeming return of lacking abdominal quality and awareness of the weakness at the lumbar sacral junction. However, the perceived loss isn’t really a loss at all. You never return to where you’ve been, but instead to a state of increased inner development, greater intrinsic capacity and you know that the next wave will bring even more exiting development. As the tide comes in, wave after wave, and the onion is built up, layer upon layer, the body is transformed from mush to the multi layered creature we truly are. Eventually those feelings of strength, volume, trimness, articulation and uprightness will not leave me and my rehab will be complete.

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Lockdown

November 19, 2020

I actually quite like ‘lockdown’; it allows me to devote more time to myself. I miss the pub though. Since my sixteenth birthday I have been a regular in one local pub or another. I’ve known them as social hubs of community; as an extension of my home and a communal living room. Our government seems hell bent on destroying the fabric of our social existence which seems crazy, although possibly what we need. Pubs, like many things in life, are a shadow of their former selves. They may always have been businesses, but lately they have become nothing but businesses with commercial interests and legislation dominating to the point that the essence of the ‘Institution of the Public House’ has been lost. Rudolf Steiner once said, “Mankind always gets what it needs”. We seem to find it hard enough to sense the need for change let alone know how to bring it about, so it inevitably gets forced upon us.

Queens Head, Dorking – My first local

Lockdown affords us an opportunity to reassess, reset and even reinvent our lives for the better. I’m not changing a great deal, but I am considering what is important and making adjustments. I’m also taking the opportunity to focus more on the work of healing my body. It’s a life of dedication I have pursued for twenty years and it makes a change not to have the usual distractions. More importantly I’m thinking about how our society is changing. The National Health Service is becoming more and more incapable of supporting the nations health, despite their phenomenal ability to deal with accidents and emergencies. It must be reinvented.The work I am involved in is showing that hands on techniques, based on the bio-mechanics of the body can be used to treat spinal injury, cerebral palsy and other serious neurological conditions that the establishment regard as permanent and incurable.

This work has many more applications. Currently there is an ever increasing trend to replace so called ‘worn out’ body parts such as hips and knees, an approach that views the body as a machine whose parts can be replaced rather than a living entity with disease that needs addressing. If our work is embraced diseased hips and knees will be treated and returned to balance.

Fellow paraplegics would be wise to take up this work to find their own ability to improve their bodies rather than relying on a crumbling service. Technology can definitely be utilised, from the properties of modern polymers used to deliver a kinetic input into the body, all the way to the possibility of using an exoskeleton to retrain the rebuilt structure of the body. However we should not fall into the trap of believing that science will come up with the miracle cure. There are no miracle cures just steps in the right direction. Bio-mechanical rehabilitation techniques give all of us the tools we need to take care of our own health.

Change is exciting, especially when your work is waiting in the wings ready to rise to the fore once society, with a new attitude, is ready to embrace a more balanced approach. The current fear of a virus is accelerating the pace of change, so let’s hope for real evolution. Let us also hope that we can reinvent our Public Houses, in a manner befitting the dawn of a new era, before they all fall victim to bankruptcy.

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Being Frank

November 12, 2020

Frank Gardner is the Securities Correspondent for the BBC who was shot in Saudi Arabia leaving him a paraplegic. He’s made a documentary, called ‘Being Frank: The Frank Gardner Story’, aired on TV earlier this week, in which he talks about what it is to be disabled. Frank he definitely is, having the courage to talk openly about the intimacies of such an injury, his bladder and bowels; issues that are generally the unspoken reality of spinal injury.

Frank Gardner enjoying life to the full

I take my hat off to the man, as I do to anyone who makes something of their life following terrible injury. It’s not easy. Two things struck me about the film. Firstly the way he talked about what it is to be disabled. He was expressing thoughts that I haven’t had for many years. A typical outlook for someone in such a position and all thoughts I’ve had myself in the past. It made me think about how I’ve moved on in accepting my lot in life, a process that takes years.

He was working for the BBC when he got shot and continued to work in the same role when returning to life post injury. The difficulty in trying to play the same role is that you are constantly reminded of what you can no longer do. The essence of my life hasn’t changed a great deal and I managed, post injury, to fulfil my ambition to live the country cottage smallholding lifestyle, something you’re meant to be able bodied to achieve, but I did it by moving on to pastures new, while at the same time still holding on to the life I had and all my friends. It’s worked well for me.

Holding down a high flying job at the BBC is quite an achievement when living with a spinal injury. I haven’t had a proper job since I became a paraplegic; then again I was pretty unemployable before. That’s not to say I don’t work; I’ve always worked very hard. One of the wisest things my father has said to me is, “We used to make money out of the work that needed doing, now we create work for the sake of earning money”. No wonder mankind has taken our world to the brink of destruction when the relationship between money and work is so out of balance. I choose to do the work that needs doing, despite the fact it doesn’t pay, as I feel a more productive member of society that way. I work to put a roof over my head and food in my belly together with other work at the Cheshire Home community where I live, but my life’s work is in the development of Bio-Mechanical Rehabilitation techniques and that brings me onto the other thing that struck me watching the film.

Frank’s body is just how mine used to be. Terribly depleted inner volume and terribly disconnected structurally. I’d almost forgotten how bad it once was. I’m so glad I got involved with Leonid Blyum and found the dedication to put the work in. I sent Frank my film last year, ‘Spinalroots the Movie’, and he not only watched it but took the time to write to me after. He didn’t really get it though and to be honest most people don’t.

Regardless of whether I walk again, if I can teach mankind the importance of paying attention to our intrinsic capacity, our structure and form, then my life’s work will be fulfilled.

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Chance or Fate

October 29, 2020

I was friends with a guy called Ziggy who lived in the main house at the Cheshire Home. He was severely disabled with cerebral palsy. One day he was going to have some hyperbaric oxygen treatment at a centre in East Grinstead and I was asked if I would go along to hold his hand in the chamber. The treatment is to breathe oxygen under pressure in a compression chamber, the sort that divers use when they get the bends; the idea being that the oxygen then manages to penetrate parts of the brain normally not accessed, encouraging rejuvenation of damaged tissue. While I was there, the woman running the centre talked me into having a course of treatment myself. I wasn’t that interested, but was intrigued by the Russian gentleman working there and wanted to know what he was up to.

I spent an hour a day for a week sitting in the chamber with only a port hole in the door to see out of. Through that I watched Leonid Blyum, the Russian gentleman, teaching a group of mothers to work upon their young children, all of whom had cerebral palsy. The children were lying on benches with their bodies wedged with towels so they were firmly supported. More towels were then carefully folded and laid on the child one by one in a specific construction. The mother used the palm of her hand to slowly compress this construction, followed by a release of the compression, repeating the motion over and over again. The towels were obviously being used as an air cushion designed in such a way as to deliver a mechanical input into the body.

Every now and then everyone would stop while Leonid gave an explanation. I couldn’t hear what was being said, from inside the chamber, but he used a flip pad to draw diagrams that made sense. I realised he had knowledge that went beyond that of the medical establishment and I knew then that I had to team up with him. None of his clients had spinal injury although all had serious physical disability from neurological conditions. He examined my body, asked me some questions, told me I’d have to find someone to work on me and agreed to take me on.

I’ve always lived life my own way, never been good at being told what to do and never blindly followed anyone. After meeting Leonid I was having a drink with some old mates and told them about the therapy program I was embarking upon. My good friend Wayne, who knows me well, said to me, “Do you mean to tell me you’re going to let someone tell you what to do?” “Yes”, I replied. “I don’t believe you”, was Wayne’s response. There was only so much I understood when I started, but I grasped enough straight away not to be blindly following and I wasn’t so much being told what to do as ‘trusting Leonid to guide me’. That was the start of not only my true rehabilitation, but also a journey of discovery into a higher understanding of health.

In Memory of Ziggy

Without my dear friend Ziggy, who’s sadly no longer with us, I may never have met Leonid Blyum. Was it chance or was it fate fulfilling my destiny?

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Switches

October 22, 2020

Breaking your back is a ‘head f**k’. There’s no two ways about that. One guy I was in hospital with was larking around on a bicycle late one evening. He fell off, like he’d probably done a thousand times, and yet this time he broke his neck. I’ve never known anyone deal with it so well. He seemed to accept his ill fate without question. Another guy jumped over a wall running away from the Police only to find out there was a quarry the other side that he fell into (or so the story goes). He broke his back, a similar injury to mine, and I watched his skeletal framework crumble before my eyes, his body becoming more and more hunched over as he slouched in a wheelchair. That’s what depression can do to you!

An ex squaddie, who drinks in my local pub, knows of the struggles that wounded soldiers go through. The mental struggles more than the physical. He asked me ‘What the switch was for me?’ He sees me happy and cheerful and doing well with my physical stature, and he’s looked at my website and film (www.spinalroots.uk) and appreciates the work I’ve done to heal my body. He understands that I couldn’t have achieved what I have without first getting my head around what had happened. I’d never thought of there being a switch so I simply replied that, ‘I get up each day and do what I can to take life forward’. Isn’t that what we all do?

Reflecting on this, later, I realised there were lots of switches. In my last blog post, ‘Years of Practice’, I talked about a previous accident. Managing to overcome that and turn my life around was the first switch that held me in good stead. I was used to living with injury which made it easier to deal with something more catastrophic. On top of that living with damaged legs was a struggle that largely went unrecognised and yet when I became paraplegic, society seemed to want to bend over backwards to help. It was soothing to experience a compassionate side to life.

Good fortune and fate have played their part. Rather than wait for the authorities to find me somewhere suitable to live I took it upon myself and came across a beautiful place in Brockham, my favourite village around my home town. An annexe to a bungalow where my landlord and lady lived with a little smallholding in the garden. Right up my street! A couple of years later I came across the Lodge at Heatherley Cheshire Home; a run down old cottage with a large garden and unkempt field beyond. Here I found the opportunity to create my own smallholding and to offer my skills to a community of disabled people. Following my dreams and pursuing a thirst for life was seeing me on my way.

Heatherley Lodge – Always at home with a good project

Then one day I bumped into Leonid Blyum who was working nearby in East Grinstead. From that day my rehabilitation entered a whole new realm, and that’s another story.