jump to navigation

Aspire, swimming and me: Sue’s story May 17, 2022

Posted by Phil Groom in Appeals, Fundraising.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

SIX YEARS AGO, in 2016, Sue started a series of sponsored swims for Aspire, the spinal injuries charity. Lots of people have asked why — what’s the connection with Aspire? In this post, Sue explains how she got involved with the charity, what she’s hoping to achieve this year, and invites you to become part of it with her. Read on to find out how…

I first came across Aspire back in 2016. My attention was caught by a poster in the changing rooms at my local swimming pool in Devizes. It was advertising the Aspire Channel Swim Challenge – swim 22 miles over twelve weeks in your local pool – to raise funds for Aspire and support people with spinal cord injury.

I have swum regularly since I was advised to do so by an orthopaedic surgeon when I was twenty, although as the years have gone by I seem to have become more and more addicted to it!

Aspire is a national charity based at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore. It provides practical help – supporting people with spinal cord injury to live as full and independent lives as possible. My own history of chronic pain and multiple hip operations has given me a particular affinity for anyone struggling with pain and disability so Aspire seemed an obvious charity for me to raise money for by swimming.

But there are even more connections: when I was a young child, being treated for complications around congenital dislocation of the hip, my parents were given the choice between me being referred for specialist treatment to the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore or to the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre in Oxford. In the end they chose Oxford because they thought it would be easier to get to from our home in Bracknell. Furthermore, when I was a parish priest in London I knew the chaplain at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital and I covered for her when she went on holiday so I had actually been there.

Aspire do amazing work at the hospital but the charity has developed nationwide. Aspire staff and volunteers work in spinal injuries centres across the UK. The charity provides accessible houses for people to live in whilst their own accommodation is being adapted, or until they find a suitable alternative home. Aspire has Independent Living Advisors who support those who have suffered spinal cord injuries. Aspire provides Assistive Technology, a Welfare Benefits Advice Service, a Money Matters Service, and grants to people. Aspire uses swimming and other sports to rehabilitate those who have suffered spinal cord injuries. They provide practical help and emotional support.

I was shocked to discover that every four hours someone is paralysed by a spinal cord injury. Aspire exists because there is currently no cure. It can happen to anyone at any time and the effects are life changing. Disability is expensive: voice recognition software costs £150; a light wheelchair costs upwards of £3,000 and to adapt and furnish an Aspire house costs £30,000. Life is more expensive for those with spinal cord injuries – they may need a carer to accompany them when they go out, or to travel by taxi because public transport is not accessible.

Once I learnt more about Aspire, I was determined to use my regular swim to raise funds for this amazing charity. I swam the Aspire Channel Challenge (22 miles over twelve weeks) in 2016 and 2017. Then, in the summer of 2018, I began swimming in Lake 86 in the Cotswold Water Park near Cirencester. The fresh air made a pleasant change from always smelling of chlorine! In February 2019 I had a hip replacement and that autumn I swam not just 22 miles but 100 miles over the twelve weeks, in pools and the lake.

In 2020, after the first lockdown, I wanted to try something different so I swam along the River Arun in Sussex – that was nearly four times my longest swim the previous year.

Last year I swam across the Solent from Stokes Bay to Ryde Sands. I had hardly ever swum in the sea, apart from paddling as a child on holiday! There were large boats and small boats, fast boats and slow boats, kayaks, paddle boards, canoes, you name it but I managed to swim safely across.

This year I am doing two swims to raise funds for Aspire: the first is across Lake Bala in the Snowdonia National Park in North Wales. Llyn Tegid, to give the lake its proper name, is a beautiful deep dark lake which tends to be quite cool, around 16°C, and subject to windy, choppy conditions!

With that in mind I kept my open water swimming going through last winter for the first time, twice a week at Lake 32 (also in the Cotswold Water Park) – the temperature got down to 2.5°C, so 16°C in June seems like a luxury! The swim across Lake Bala should be about three miles.

The swim across Lake Bala has been arranged by my swimming coach, Jason Tait of South West Swim, and I am very grateful to Jason for all his encouragement and support as well as for his expertise, which has helped me tremendously with my development as a swimmer.

My second swim this year will be in July at the Outdoor Swimmer Henley Swim Festival where I aim to swim four miles, my longest swim yet, one mile at a time, the full length of the course. I suspect that I may find the clambering out and walking back to the start after each mile more tiring than the actual swimming. We will see!

My experience of swimming for Aspire has certainly kept me fit and healthy, given me a new challenge to rise to each year, and made me appreciate more than ever my own ability to feel the tips of my fingers and the tingle in my toes, something that can be forever lost to people with spinal cord injuries.

That’s my story and I would be absolutely delighted if you would like to make it part of your story too by sponsoring me for this year’s swims: you can do that through my latest JustGiving page.

I know that many of you have already sponsored me over the last few years and I am very grateful for your generosity. On behalf of Aspire, a big, big thank you for that, but there’s always more work for Aspire to do so if you can, please do sponsor me again this year. Even if you can’t, you can still help by sharing this story with other people, with your family and friends and anyone else in your social media networks.

Many of you will probably know that I’m a Church of England Archdeacon in the Diocese of Salisbury, affectionately known there as the Aquadeacon because of my swimming.

My hope and prayer is that in raising funds for Aspire to support people with spinal injuries in some small way I am helping to bring good news to those who are suffering and to bind up their broken hearts, to show them that people do care. I feel very strongly that it is important that those of us within the church who are commissioned and licensed to a particular ministry do not restrict our ministry to those we know within the church or within our local communities but that we reach out in love and service to people we may never even meet.

That’s what my sponsored swims are about and that’s why I’m appealing to you, please, to sponsor me if you can. Thank you very much.

This post is adapted from a talk given at St Mary’s Church, Calne, on Saturday 14 May 2022 for a Service of Celebration of Lay Ministers.

Swimming to save the world August 28, 2019

Posted by Phil Groom in Appeals, Campaigns, Life.
Tags: , , , , ,
comments closed

Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration: what Sue is actually doing is swimming to help people with spinal injuries, raising funds for Aspire, the charity that, in its own words, “provides practical help to people who have been paralysed by Spinal Cord Injury, supporting them from injury to independence.”

Ready for action...

It’s something that means a lot to Sue, even more so recently as she herself has been suffering with debilitating back pain and sciatica for several weeks, giving her a glimpse, albeit a small one, into that world. Sue’s personal history of chronic pain caused by CDH (Congenital Dislocation of the Hip) and a whole raft of operations to deal with that – culminating in a hip replacement in February this year – has given her a particular affinity for anyone struggling with pain and disability.

One thing that’s kept her going down the years, down the decades in fact, is swimming. Swimming quite literally takes the weight off your feet, relieves the stress on your joints and gives you a sense of freedom that’s difficult to find in any other activity. Starting the day with a swim is like pressing a reset button on your mind as you enter the rhythm of the strokes, stretching out and reaching for the pool’s far end, then repeat, occasionally changing stroke until, suddenly, you find that you’ve swum 40, 50 or even 60 lengths: where did the time go? But as the time flies by, your mind settles, ideas coalesce and new possibilities take shape.

New possibilities. That’s what Aspire offers to people with spinal injuries. Hope where there was no hope, a future where there was no future. And that’s why I, as Sue’s husband, am proud to support what she’s doing here and want to invite you to become a part of it with her by sponsoring her swim this year.

In action at Sidmouth

She’s really going for it this time around, out of the pool and into open water, swimming in lakes and in the sea, stretching out, recharging her batteries and, with your support and mine, saving someone else’s world.

Whether it’s as little as a fiver – less than the price of a coffee and a cake in most cafés these days – or something more, whatever you can afford, every contribution counts.

Thank you for your support.

Broken Britain, Broken People: Less than One Month Before Heartbreak January 21, 2011

Posted by Phil Groom in Appeals, Current Affairs, Death, Life, Mental Health, Watching and Waiting.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

One Month Before Heartbreak

One Month Before Heartbreak

BRITAIN IS BROKEN. Broken from top to bottom, by the people at the top trampling over the people at the bottom. Broken by a government so obsessed with its programme of cuts that they’ve become blind to the effect those cuts are having on people’s lives. Stampeding cattle panicked by the wolves of their predecessors’ incompetence, trampling the weak, the disabled and the vulnerable underfoot as they charge headlong towards only God knows where, rewarding failed bankers and ignoring the cries of the poor.

We are a nation betrayed, betrayed by those we pay to serve us. Taxed when we earn, taxed when we spend, taxed when we travel, taxed when we die — and for some that death may well come sooner than it should, death by a thousand cuts from an axe-wielding government which takes and takes … a voracious leech, sucking the very life from its host, the British people…

Purple Noise: The beginning of the end

Purple Noise - The beginning of the end

I suppose I could go on with the purple prose, but instead I’ll give you another pointer to Purple Noise, Ali Quant‘s blog, where Ali describes the living nightmare of battling with mental illness whilst contending with the changes to Britain’s benefits system: The beginning of the end. Perhaps you’ve already read it after my earlier post: then go read it again; if you haven’t read it, prepare to be shaken; and when you’ve been shaken, I hope you’ll be stirred to action. Because Ali is just one amongst many for whom this government’s mandatory reassessment for benefits entitlement is simply too much to bear, one amongst many who have a plan to ‘delete’ themselves, as Ali has expressed it: to commit suicide rather than face the horror of having the minutiae of their lives (re)examined by people whose only interest is in number crunching and balancing the books of a failed administration.

Let’s get this straight: mental illness is real; and it debilitates. It prevents people from working not because they are unwilling to work but, as much as anything, because many employers are unwilling, unable or are simply ill-equipped to deal with the effects of mental illness in their workforce (technically, of course, employers cannot discriminate; but how is a mentally ill person going to fight suspected discrimination?). It’s not the mentally ill person’s fault that they’re unable to work any more than it’s any other ill person’s fault; and contrary to some perceptions, mentally ill people are not malingerers or skivers. Diseases of the mind are every bit as real as diseases of the body, and just as physical illness often affects our ability to think, mental illness often affects the ability to do things, even basic things such as wash yourself, get dressed or respond to a hug. Body and mind, mind and body: the two cannot be separated.

Mentally ill people need their Disability Living Allowance (DLA) every bit as much as people whose illnesses or disabilities are physically plain to see. It’s not something they should have to fight for any more than we’d expect someone in a wheelchair to stand up and fight for their wheelchair. But in just three weeks’ time, that’s exactly what’s going to be expected of them as the government’s consultation about DLA reform comes to an end halfway through February: on 14th February 2011, Valentines Day, to be precise. Courtesy of the UK Government, a day for lovers to celebrate has become a day of despair, a day of fear, darkness and heartbreak for thousands of people. It seems that as a nation we can afford to maintain a nuclear arsenal big enough to ravage the planet but we can’t — or rather, under the current regime, won’t — commit to providing for some of our most vulnerable people.

So what can ordinary people like you and me do? First, it seems to me, we need to make our views known to the government: although the consultation is aimed primarily at disability organisations and disabled people, the DWP have indicated that they would like to hear from anybody who is interested. Then let’s let them know! Let’s let them know that we’re not merely “interested” — we’re outraged! Outraged at the trauma this consultation is causing amongst the Broken of Britain, amongst Britain’s disabled people. Let’s let them know that they cannot, must not, discriminate like this, that we stand in solidarity with our disabled brothers and sisters!

Another example of the trauma: DLA, Danni, and Me – By Vicky Biggs.

Second: if you, like me, don’t trust this government to listen, we need to start setting up our own safety nets for people such as Ali who may drop out of the benefits system. That’s what my ‘200 People’ campaign is about, providing a safety net, in this case specifically for mentally ill people. I say ‘my’ campaign but I am thrilled to say that it is no longer mine: I kicked it off but others have seized the initiative and we’re now well on the way to setting up an official organisation, name to be announced shortly.

Will you stand with us? Will you stand with some of Britain’s most broken people? Will you join me in enabling the mentally ill community, in helping to erase the stigma of mental illness, in what is, for many, quite literally a fight for life?

The time is now: if you’re on facebook, please join our facebook group today. Although the group is still called ‘200 People to Save Ali Quant’ its remit has grown and it should be renamed and given a new description within the next few days: please watch this space for more info.

Thank you.

5 Quid for Life? In Search of a Campaign Name January 16, 2011

Posted by Phil Groom in Appeals, Death, Life, Mental Health.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

FOLLOWING ON from my 200 People to Save Ali Quant post — to which the responses and enthusiasm have been amazing: thank you all — we’re now looking at a wider brief, at Ali’s request

How about if, instead of making this a let’s help Ali thing, how about a more general let’s help everyone thing? … let me explain my thinking: the reality is, as many of you will know, that I’m not the only one who’s made a deletion plan in case I fail my assessment. Over the past year or so (and obviously more in the past few days) I have heard from different sources of literally hundreds of people who feel the exact same way I do, this is just from people coming and directly telling me “I feel like this” or “I have a friend who says…” there must be thousands more that I haven’t had direct contact with. I’m nothing special, I’m not some kind of extreme case and I haven’t done anything to deserve to be singled out. All I did was write a blog post out of sheer despair, I thought I was so near the end that I had absolutely nothing to lose so I may as well write about it. So why not make some kind of central fund, not necessarily asking for a monthly donation to support people in that way but just a fund that could be used for anyone in my situation? It could be used to help people if they fall over at any stage of claiming benefits, to give people a safety net for example to help out while they’re appealing or if they haven’t been able to attend all the work-focused interviews and get sanctioned.

… and over at the facebook group we’ve been having all sorts of discussions about how to take the idea forward. The first thing we need is a campaign name, a name to grab the public imagination. This post is your invitation to help us choose one: the poll below lists some of the names suggested so far but please feel free to offer other suggestions in the comments. If you’re wildly enthusiastic about a particular name, tell us why in a comment or — even better — post about it on your own blog/facebook/twitter and link to us here to encourage your friends to join in.

The poll will remain open for three days initially, but I’m happy to review that depending on how the conversation goes. Now get voting, please:

  • Special thanks to Kate White, who suggested most of these.

200 People to Save Ali Quant January 13, 2011

Posted by Phil Groom in Appeals, Death, Life.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
comments closed

I have changed my socks

I have changed my socks

YESTERDAY I was feeling frivolous and I changed my socks. Yes, it happened. Unfortunately the yeast was too strong and my bread collapsed, but that’s another story.

Today, however, I am in a more serious frame of mind and I would like you to join me in a campaign to save my friend Ali Quant.

Ali has been a victim of serious domestic abuse and is battling and blogging her way through various mental health issues, all of which you can find out about on her blog, Purple Noise. She’s also a great Scrabble player, which is one of the (admittedly more selfish) reasons why I cannot allow her to go through with her recently announced plan to commit suicide if our inglorious government (yes, David Cameron, that’s you and your crew I’m talking about) pushes her over the edge with its programme of benefit cuts that is demoralising many of the most vulnerable people in our society such as Ali. In fact, it wouldn’t be suicide: it would be murder, death by a thousand cuts from a knife wielded by the UK Government — the very people whose job it is to take care of the poor, the weak, the vulnerable on our behalf as taxpayers.

So I have a plan. It’s simple: I need 200 people who will stand with me in committing themselves to a regular monthly gift of £5 to Ali. That works out at £12,000 per year (more than I earn, as it happens) and I think Ali is worth far more than that. She may be unable to work in the conventional sense of the word, but through her blog (alongside many others: see the Madosphere links in my sidebar)  she is providing an essential service to our society: helping to erase the stigma of mental illness by telling it how it is; and exposing the shabbiness of our government’s policies and the impact those policies are having upon people’s lives.

At the same time as publishing this I’m setting up a facebook group with the same name: 200 People to Save Ali Quant. Even if you’re not in a position to make the regular financial commitment I’m asking for, please consider joining it anyway to show your solidarity with Ali — and please spread the word: between us all, between my friends and yours, we must be able to find 200 people, maybe more, who can make this level of commitment. You may be able to offer more, in which case we may not need 200 people; or less, in which case we may need more. I’m not asking for any money right now; what I’m asking for is commitment to the cause: to make the effort to pull Ali back from the brink onto which the government is pushing her and let her know what we think she’s worth, that we think her life is worth living, that we think she is making an important contribution to our society.

The world needs people like Ali Quant: people who aren’t ashamed to describe what they’ve been through, what they’re going through and who aren’t afraid to shine a light on the government’s failings. If and when those failings reach the point Ali describes and she feels she has to jump, that’s when I’ll come asking for your money: if it helps, think of this as a safety net; but please don’t commit if you’re not prepared for that safety net to be deployed — this is not a game, this is a person’s life.

I realise that in a sense doing this is precisely what Cameron wants us to do with his bleating on about the ‘Big Society’ — “Let’s get people off state benefits into community care”, or something like that. To that I say up yours to Cameron et al: the vast majority of this country didn’t vote for you and we don’t want you or need you: go back to your world of privilege and reward for failed bankers — one day it’s all going to collapse around your head. The ‘Big Society’ was here long before you were and we, the people, will continue to take care of one another with or without your help using our money (and speaking of our money, if there’s anyone reading who’s in a position to advise or help on registering the group as a charity, we should then be able to claim tax back via Gift Aid on taxpayer’s donations; and that, I think, would be a result!).

Will you stand with me? Will you spread the word? Will you help to save Ali from our cut-throat government?

Finally and very importantly: please note that I haven’t consulted Ali about this. When I hit ‘Publish’ it’s going to be as much a surprise for her as it is for everyone else. This is me, Phil Groom, asking, not Ali … because if I know Ali at all, she’d never make this request: she’d die first. But I’m not willing to sit idly by and let that happen.

And if we get more than I’m asking for, there are others out there whose blogging deserves better recognition too, starting with another of my friends, Pandora Serial Insomniac

Where Next?

Remembering Gaza February 2, 2009

Posted by Phil Groom in Appeals.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

Whilst we fret over a few inches of snow and the impact that’s having on our lives, let’s not forget the people of Gaza. If only it had been snow falling  on them instead of bombs! This is the DEC appeal that the BBC wouldn’t broadcast:


Donate online to the DEC’s Gaza Crisis

Israel: your treatment of your neighbours is an abomination before your God!

%d bloggers like this: