I have now clocked up over two decades of close involvement with Aspire, more than 15 of them as chairman, and so it is inevitable, I suppose, that I write about the charity as a father would of his child, with pride in its growth, development and achievements, and a sense of wonder at what has evolved in so short a time from the fledgling I remember at the very start. But I hope, in introducing this annual report, that I also possess those other qualities of a parent – a keen eye for where their child can do better, and a determination to spur that child on to do more.
So it is with pride that I draw your attention, in what follows, to the continuing growth and improvements across all areas of our provision of vital services to people with spinal cord injury. Aspire is now a valued presence on every Spinal Injury Centre around the country, including Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Our Independent Living Advisors are on hand to give expert guidance to those, post-injury, on the road to rebuilding independent and fulfilled lives. Our Assistive Technology facilities provide those on the centres with Internet access and the practical support they need to use computers. Our Interim Housing Programme grows year-on-year and now offers many their first home outside the Spinal Injury Centre as they begin the process of planning their future. Finally, our Human Needs Fund is there to make those plans into realities – by funding the purchase of specialist wheelchairs and computer equipment. Aspire is and will always be alongside those with spinal cord injuries, working with them in practical ways to influence their lives for the better.
Ours is, we believe, an impressive programme, but one capable of further growth to tackle outstanding areas of needs – over the provision and retention of personal assistants, for example, or in re-entering the workplace, or coping with the new challenges thrown up by growing old with a spinal cord injury. All are part of our plans for the future.
To grow, charities need not only to identify need and to come up with practical, user-focussed solutions, they also require funds, and so it is with great pleasure that I draw your attention to a 10 per cent growth in the yield of our fund-raising activities, achieved in the face of one of the worst economic downturns the country has experienced in many a long year. It is a testament to the professionalism and dedication of Aspire fund-raising and marketing team, to the support given to them by all their colleagues at the charity, and – most of all – to those who have given their time, effort, enthusiasm and money to support Aspire in everything it does.
There have been many highlights this year for Aspire, but one in particular stands out for me as the culmination of an idea first mentioned many moons ago but now brought to fruition by my erstwhile fellow trustee, now our Vice-President, Angi Jones. Friends and supporters of Aspire from over its entire 27 years in existence gathered at City Hall, home of the Mayor of London, to celebrate the publication of the charity’s first book, It’s My Life, a collection of stunning photographs by Max Forsythe and individual stories from the many inspiring people who have come through Aspire’s doors over the years on their own journeys, following a spinal cord injury, to independence and fulfilment in life. The charity’s new president, broadcaster John Inverdale, presided and many of those featured in the book – including Margaret (Lady) Tebbitt and the much decorated dancer and choreographer Celeste Dandeker OBE – were there to toast its appearance.
The event neatly combined Aspire’s past, its present and its ambition for the future. This is a charity that has grown quickly, but it is based on solid foundations, in terms of its financial management, its evolving programmes, and most of all its passionate and unswerving commitment to breaking down the barriers that face people with spinal cord injuries.