The Sunday Telegraph

Ringing into the record books, the climber who cheated death

- By Andrew Harvey and Patrick Sawer

MIKE WIGNEY’s wheelchair is regularly dismantled so he can be carried up the spiral staircases into the steeples of some of his favourite churches.

But the 57-year-old does not go up there to enjoy the spectacula­r views – he has a more serious task in mind.

The Londoner is attempting the landmark achievemen­t of clocking up 1,000 quarter peals – a sequence of 45 minutes of non-stop synchronis­ed ringing – from a wheelchair, the only person ever to do so.

If he hits his target this weekend, the achievemen­t will be cheered by bell ringers everywhere, especially as it comes after a terrifying mountainee­ring accident that snapped his spine, paralysing his lower body.

Following the accident, few expected him to return to ringing and to teach himself to control heavy bells on long ropes while sitting down.

When he arrives at a church where the bell ringing platform has to be reached via a spiral staircase, as is the case with around three quarters of all churches, Mr Wigney’s colleagues go into action like a grand prix pit crew.

Someone gives him a piggy back, while the others dismantle the chair, taking it up the tower in pieces and reassembli­ng it.

If bell ringing was a sport, Mr Wigney would be a paralympic champion. Not only is he regarded as being in a class of his own as a wheelchair performer, he was a leading ringer before his accident and retains a huge repertoire of combinatio­ns in his memory.

“I could go into a tower and ring pretty much anything without having to look it up or do any swotting,” he said. “I’m a mathematic­ian and I’m good at looking at patterns and analysing what makes them work.”

Mr Wigney, a keen climber since his days as a Lancashire schoolboy, was climbing in the French Alps in the summer of 2002 when he dislodged loose rock that brought a huge boulder down on him. He was helicopter­ed off the Mike Wigney at St Nicholas’ church in Chiswick, west London, and, top left, as a keen climber before an accident in 2002 snapped his spine, paralysing his lower body mountain and spent five years in and out of Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckingham­shire which specialise­s in spinal injuries and rehabilita­tion.

“At first I was getting positive signals, but gradually I came to realise there would be no recovery,” he said.

“A series of operations and sores from the effect of bed rest afterwards kept me in hospital for the best part of five years.

“I also contracted MRSA. That was the most depressing time because I wasn’t getting better and there seemed to be no end in sight. I was pretty low at that point.

“Then at the end of 2007, the MRSA suddenly disappeare­d and after a period without its recurrence life became much better.” Finally “things began to look up”. Mr Wigney returned to his job as an IT systems analyst at the internatio­nal freight company DHL and got on with his two favourite pastimes – bellringin­g and singing, frequently accompanie­d by his wife Jill, who is also an accomplish­ed ringer.

His tally of wheelchair quarter peals should reach 1,000 either today or tomorrow, as long as no one in his team of fellow bellringer­s makes a mistake.

“When I’m active, I’m generally cheerful,” he said. “It’s inactivity that gets me down.”

It’s just as well, therefore, that he is booked in for ringing or singing every night of the week for the next two months. duty or council tax. Among those to become a shed dweller is self-styled “lady in the lodge” Val Dawson, who moved into a lodge in October last year.

The 78-year-old chose to live in a cabin, which has a shower and a double bed and seating area, in her son Chris’s garden in Cheshire.

“My son had the idea of getting me in before I needed any caring. At first, being a very independen­t lady, I didn’t really want to sit in his garden for the rest of my days, however the more we thought about, that I wouldn’t have to pay council tax, it seemed to make sense,” the grandmothe­r-of-seven said.

“I think overall it was around £50,000, so much cheaper than a house.”

Paula Higgins, chief executive of the Homeowner’s Alliance, said: “Thanks to stamp duty the cost of moving is so high that it just loses people money, so instead they are being creative with their space.”

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 ??  ?? Valerie Dawson, the “lady in the lodge”, lives in her son’s garden in Knutsford
Valerie Dawson, the “lady in the lodge”, lives in her son’s garden in Knutsford

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