On 26th February 2015, Mark Harper MP, Minister of State for Disabled People, visited Aspire. His previous visit was in May 2008, when he was the Shadow Minister for Disabled People, and he was invited to return to see firsthand how Aspire has moved forward with its service provision since then, most notably: the InstructAbility programme, Aspire Housing, the new Welfare Benefits Advice Service and the recent launch of Aspire Law.

He met with Brian Carlin, Chief Executive of Aspire, and had a tour of the Aspire Leisure Centre, which was the first fully integrated Leisure Centre in Europe for both disabled and non-disabled people, and discussed some of Aspire’s key services:

The Aspire Housing Programme, which provides accessible properties around the UK for spinal cord injured people to live in when they leave hospital whilst suitable accommodation can be organised, has grown from just 9 properties in 2008 to 44 properties in 2015.

In January 2014 Aspire’s Welfare Benefits Advice Service was launched, dedicated to providing advice and support to spinal cord injured people. The Service has already helped 193 people recover £93,000 of benefits payments. At the end of last year, Aspire Law was launched in partnership with Moore Blatch, which provides a specialist service to people with spinal cord injuries.

Mark Harper also met with graduates from the InstructAbility Programme to find out how the programme is engaging disabled people in the fitness industry as gym instructors and gym users.

InstructAbility is a multi-award winning bespoke programme in partnership with YMCAFit, providing disabled people with free, accessible fitness industry training and qualifications, followed by a voluntary industry work placement. Since the programme began in 2012, more than 100 disabled people have qualified as instructors, working in 100 different facilities supporting other disabled people to get active.

Lindsay Liggett, an InstructAbility graduate currently in week three of her 12 week placement at the Aspire Leisure Centre, had the opportunity to speak with Mark Harper. She said: “I told the Minister about my plans to encourage more disabled people in the local Harrow and Stanmore communities to get active. I plan to meet with disabled patients at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital to let them know about the accessible fitness facilities available at the Aspire Leisure Centre. As an InstructAbility graduate I am now qualified to develop fitness programmes to help patients with their rehabilitation once they leave hospital.”

Minister of State for Disabled People Mark Harper said: “We have made great strides in this area and there are now 3.1 million disabled people in employment, an increase of 141,000 over the past year. However, there is still more that can be done to support disabled people in to work and Aspire’s InstructAbility programme is a great example of how tailored programmes can make a huge difference.”

Brian Carlin, CEO of Aspire, commented: “I am delighted that Mark Harper MP was able to visit Aspire again so we could discuss with him the many ways in which Aspire has expanded its services over the last few years to continue to help people with spinal cord injuries, and in particular our experiences with our new Welfare Benefits Advice Service and Personal Independence Payments.”

Speaking with the Harrow Times, Mark Harper commented: “Aspire is at the cutting edge of the industry, unlike the zillions of people running along behind. The more we can get services working in partnership, like here at Aspire with their work with the hospital, the better for the community.

The visit today was about looking at all the new services they have delivered since my last visit, from introducing the InstructAbility scheme to the extra houses they’ve created.”
Read the full story in the Harrow Times: http://www.harrowtimes.co.uk/news/11821848.Charity_dubbed__cutting_edge__in_minister_s_visit/