CHAR­ITY AP­PEAL ‘It’s bril­liant to see them re­turn to their jobs’

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The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Property -

vis­its Ju­bilee House in Cum­bria to see how the Fire Fight­ers Char­ity pro­vides phys­i­cal and emo­tional sup­port

Nor­mally it’s a bad sign to have so many fire­fight­ers in such prox­im­ity, but at Ju­bilee House, on the edge of the Lake District, the op­po­site is true. There are dozens of fire ser­vice per­son­nel here be­cause Ju­bilee House is one of their pro­fes­sion’s three main re­cu­per­a­tion cen­tres. Since 1995, it has of­fered re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion ser­vices to fire­fight­ers past and present, as well as their spouses and chil­dren. It’s one of three cen­tres run by The Fire Fight­ers Char­ity, the oth­ers be­ing Har­combe House in Devon, cur­rently be­ing re­pur­posed to spe­cialise in men­tal health, and Ma­rine Court, a cen­tre in West Sus­sex.

Be­cause Ju­bilee House has a 24hour on-site nurs­ing team, it spe­cialises in treat­ing phys­i­cal in­juries, though it of­ten wel­comes peo­ple with psy­cho­log­i­cal con­di­tions such as post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der (PTSD) and works by the gen­eral prin­ci­ple that phys­i­cal and men­tal health are tightly knit­ted to­gether.

The char­ity is one of three cho­sen by The Tele­graph for our an­nual Christ­mas ap­peal, so I’ve been in­vited to spend 24 hours at Ju­bilee House, to meet the men and women who come here for treat­ment, and to learn how they ben­e­fit from the sup­port of the char­ity and its donors.

I ar­rive on a cold, wet Wed­nes­day. The river Ea­mont, which runs past the cen­tre and on oc­ca­sion nearly floods it, is flow­ing quickly. The cen­tre’s phys­io­ther­a­pists of­ten or­gan­ise Lake­land walks for the ben­e­fi­cia­ries, as they call their visi­tors, but sen­si­bly they’ll be stay­ing in­doors to­day.

For­tu­nately, they have a busy pro-

Christ­mas Char­ity Ap­peal 2018

gramme to get on with. A cou­ple of the char­ity’s staff show me around what in many ways re­sem­bles a small school, al­beit with more pic­tures of fire­fight­ers on the wall than usual. There are class­rooms, in which ben­e­fi­cia­ries learn about men­tal health, nutri­tion, good sleep and so on; there is a can­teen, a swim­ming pool, hy­drother­apy pool, and cor­ri­dors of sin­gle rooms for ben­e­fi­cia­ries to stay in. But first I’m shown the sports hall.

There are about 10 ben­e­fi­cia­ries in here, and phys­ios too. It’s a large-win­dowed space, with mats, gym equip­ment and mas­sage ta­bles. The ben­e­fi­cia­ries each have their own rou­tine, tai­lored to what­ever ail­ment they’ve ar­rived with. Some fo­cus on in­juries, like the young man to my left do­ing leg ex­er­cises. Oth­ers are do­ing what re­sem­bles fire­fight­ing work, like the 50-some­thing car­ry­ing big plas­tic con­tain­ers of wa­ter up and down the length of a rope ly­ing in a straight line down the hall. They’re all work­ing with pur­pose and ca­ma­raderie.

Stu­art Richard­son, 28, was the man do­ing the leg ex­er­cises. Af­ter lunch, we sit down on one of the big so­fas in the com­mu­nal area. In June, Richard­son rup­tured the patel­lar ten­don in his left knee, he tells me. He ac­quired the in­jury while rep­re­sent­ing Scot­tish Fire and Res­cue Ser­vice, but he wasn’t fight­ing a fire – he was in a char­ity foot­ball match against a po­lice team.

“It was a freak ac­ci­dent,” he says rue­fully. “There was no con­tact at all, I just stuck my leg out to tackle the boy, and when this foot” – he points to his left foot – “was on the ground by it­self, the leg sort of gave way and snapped.”

Iron­i­cally, Richard­son had given up play­ing foot­ball a cou­ple of years ago to fo­cus on his young fam­ily and his fire­fight­ing ca­reer. He is a driven, en­er­getic man, who works full-time for the Aberdeen fire ser­vice, and as a part­time mem­ber of the watch at Mon­trose, where he lives, and his sud­den in­abil­ity to do any­thing but light desk work was frus­trat­ing. On top of that, his wife, Kim, was preg­nant with their sec­ond child.

He used the birth date as a mile­stone. “The main aim was to get back walk­ing in time for that, so I could carry our sons about” – they al­ready had Blake, two years old – “and help about the house.” At that point, though, he couldn’t even drive, and most days was stuck at home. He’d had surgery on the NHS a few days af­ter the in­jury, but was only en­ti­tled to half an hour of phys­io­ther­apy a week. One of Richard­son’s col­leagues told him to ap­ply for a stay at Ju­bilee House. As it hap­pened, he had sup­ported the cen­tre for years, be­ing one of the many fire­fight­ers who raise money for the Fire Fight­ers Char­ity. Twelve weeks af­ter send­ing de­tails of his in­jury, he be­gan six days’ res­i­dence. He took the train to Cum­bria and, like ev­ery ben­e­fi­ciary, was given a per­son­alised pro­gramme meld­ing in­di­vid­ual treat­ment with group classes. “Back home,” he says, “you’re do­ing a silly re­hab ex­er­cise at the gym, and you feel pres­sure be­cause other peo­ple are won­der­ing: ‘What’s he do­ing? What’s he all about?’. But down here, you get a good laugh, and you real- ise that you’re not as bad off as oth­ers; some have got worse in­juries.”

He en­joyed the ca­ma­raderie that came with work­ing with other mem­bers of his unique pro­fes­sion, and his re­cov­ery was helped greatly by the at­ten­tion given by the Ju­bilee House phys­ios. They gave him ex­er­cises and ad­vice that were ap­pro­pri­ate not only for his in­jury, but for the par­tic­u­lar de­mands of fire­fight­ing.

The six days were so help­ful that he ap­plied for an ad­di­tional four days a few months fur­ther into his re­cov­ery, the pe­riod that co­in­cides with my visit. It means be­ing away from three-weekold Adam, but Richard­son is now fit enough to carry him and should be ready to re­sume work in May or June.

Later I meet Vicky Ridg­way, an­other ben­e­fi­ciary. Ridg­way, who be­came the first fe­male fire­fighter in north Wales when she signed up 19 years ago, is a mem­ber of Wrex­ham’s fire ser­vice. She’s here as part of her re­cov­ery from an an­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment (ACL) in-

jury she suf­fered in May. Sit­ting on a sofa with views of the river, she ex­plains how her crew had fin­ished their weekly pa­rade and were rush­ing round the sta­tion pick­ing up kit.

“I heard a pop and it floored me,” she re­calls. “It was in­stant agony.” She tried get­ting on with her work, which at that mo­ment was teach­ing a new re­cruit how to use breath­ing ap­pa­ra­tus, but her knee couldn’t bear her weight and the pain wouldn’t go away. An MRI scan con­firmed that she had rup­tured her ACL, needed surgery, and would not be able to re­sume phys­i­cal work for the best part of a year.

She had heard of sports­peo­ple hav­ing their ca­reers wrecked by ACL in­juries, and wor­ried that the same would hap­pen to hers. “I did have a very down spell then,” she says, “just be­fore the op­er­a­tion, think­ing: ‘Well, what if?’”.

The surgery was suc­cess­ful, but, like many in­jured fire­fight­ers, Ridg­way felt dis­lo­cated from a ca­reer that gave her life pur­pose. She was used to a rolling eight-day week, night shifts in­cluded, but sud­denly she had lit­tle to do. “You don’t have that rou­tine that most peo­ple have,” she says of re­cov­er­ing from in­jury as a fire­fighter. “You spend a lot of time think­ing about the in­jury.”

Ridg­way is look­ing for­ward to re­turn­ing to her nine-year-old son and an 11-year-old daugh­ter, af­ter four days away, but, like Richard­son, finds that Ju­bilee House is good for her morale as well as her in­jury.

Both of them have suf­fered, but min­gle with peo­ple whose in­juries are even more se­vere. One of those peo­ple is James Thorpe, 30, who suf­fered a dev­as­tat­ing spinal in­jury on his stag trip two years ago, hit­ting his head on the seabed when his party went for a late-night swim. He was paral­ysed from the neck down, and might have drowned had he not been able, thanks to his train­ing, to calmly tell his friends how to safely re­move him from the wa­ter and sup­port his neck.

With the help of some metal sup­ports, Thorpe was able to meet his goal of stand­ing at the al­tar when the wed­ding came around. But the mar­riage soon broke down, and, house­bound and rud­der­less, he be­gan suf­fer­ing with clin­i­cal de­pres­sion.

In re­count­ing his or­deal, Thorpe is san­guine and en­gag­ing and he puts a lot of his im­prove­ment down to his ex­pe­ri­ence at Ju­bilee House. He has now stayed here sev­eral times, and has ben­e­fited im­mensely. “Ev­ery time I come here they’ve got new equip­ment I can use,” he says. Thorpe will never re­cover his mo­bil­ity, but in his quest to reach other mile­stones, like walk­ing with par­al­lel bars, he has been helped by re­sources such as the hy­drother­apy pool, and a bike that uses elec­tri­cal stim­u­la­tion to stop his leg mus­cles wast­ing away.

The staff help him dress and shower and get med­i­ca­tion from him, but cul­ti­vate a pos­i­tive and en­cour­ag­ing at­mos­phere too. “The nurses put all your wor­ries at ease. They’re so friendly and knowl­edge­able.” Like ev­ery­one else here, Thorpe en­joys be­ing around fel­low ben­e­fi­cia­ries. “I’ve met so many dif­fer­ent peo­ple with dif­fer­ent in­juries, and some have re­turned to their jobs, which is a bril­liant thing to see.”

And while his new friends won’t see him re­join the fire ser­vice, they’ve wit­nessed him turn his life around. He’s walked with par­al­lel bars, which he says was as good a feel­ing as it gets, he’s started a dis­abled bath­room fit­ting busi­ness, called Abil­ity Bathing. And he’s met some­one new. “She’s re­ally bril­liant. It’s go­ing re­ally well.”

Later, we eat din­ner and re­turn to the can­teen for a quiz. The fire­fight­ers’ dis­tinc­tive traits are vis­i­ble through­out: they’re friendly but driven, team play­ers with a sense of hu­mour.

In ad­di­tion to that, what I’d learned from speak­ing to Thorpe, Ridg­way and Richard­son was that they and their col­leagues are far more used to res­cu­ing oth­ers than be­ing res­cued them­selves. Yet fire­fight­ing is a dan­ger­ous job, both phys­i­cally and men­tally, and cen­tres like Ju­bilee House give vi­tal help to the men and women who ha­bit­u­ally help the rest of us. The con­clu­sion I leave with is that this kind of be­spoke, at­ten­tive treat­ment can be a life­saver.

‘The nurses put you at ease. They’re so friendly and knowl­edge­able’

How to play Ba­sics: Grid­dlers are solved us­ing num­ber clues to lo­cate solids (filled-in squares) and dots (empty squares) to re­veal a pic­ture.

Each col­umn and row has a se­ries of num­bers next to it. These re­fer to the num­ber of ad­ja­cent squares that should be filled as solids. If more than one num­ber ap­pears, that line will con­tain more than one block of solids.

The solid blocks must ap­pear in the or­der that the num­bers are printed. For ex­am­ple, a row that con­tains the num­bers 11.5 would con­tain, some­where, a block of 11 ad­ja­cent filled-in squares (solids), then a gap of one or more empty squares (with dots in) and then a block of five ad­ja­cent filled-in squares.

Cum­bria County Coun­cil asked its res­i­dents to vote for names for its new fleet of 11 grit­ting ve­hi­cles. Which of these names failed to make the cut? (a) David Ploughie (b) Spready Mer­cury (c) Gary Grit­ter

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