In March 2015 self-employed tree surgeon Sean Harding had a life-changing accident at work that left him paralysed and unable to walk. With the help of a specialist spinal injury team in Salisbury and the support of charities Aspire and Perennial, Sean is in recovery and is determined to continue working with trees as a consultant, tree photographer and campaigner for the protection of ancient trees. He is positive he will once again climb and enjoy the thrill of being in the canopy of a large tree, even if he is unable to walk.
“I can’t remember anything about the accident itself, and no-one really knows what went wrong, but I do know it took just a few seconds for my life to change forever. We were dismantling a beech tree in the Cotswolds in early spring last year. I was positioned under the tree, on the ground, operating a series of ropes and pulleys. Something happened and, according to witnesses, I slipped or stumbled and a large piece of timber which I was lowering to the ground struck me. The impact fractured my neck, broke my back and severely damaged my spinal chord. A few centimetres either way and I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale. I think of myself as extremely lucky; my children still have a Dad.”
Sean’s accident left him paralysed and unable to walk. He woke up in hospital with no recollection of how he had got there and spent the next five months on The Duke of Cornwall Spinal Treatment Centre at Salisbury District Hospital. The care he received and the support of his family enabled Sean to recover well enough to be discharged in August 2015. Unfortunately the family home wasn’t suitable to be adapted for a wheelchair – Sean couldn’t go home. With the help of spinal injury charity Aspire, he was able to move into temporary accommodation just a few minutes away.
“My wife was run ragged. Not only was she holding the fort at home – looking after our 10 year old son and 16 year old daughter and supporting our third who is at University – she was visiting me daily to cook, clean and support me. It was an unbelievably stressful time. We would not have survived it without my wife’s strength and drive. She has been amazing.”
Sean first heard about Perennial from a friend who had visited the charity’s information stand at The Arb Show in June 2015. His initial reaction was ‘I don’t need help from a charity, we’ll be fine’, but he didn’t fully appreciate how much his life was going to change and what the loss of his income would do to their family situation. On trying to access the benefits system and apply for grants to help with day-to-day costs, Sean and his wife soon realised that some help would be extremely useful. He made a call and arranged a home visit.
“Our caseworker, Claire, visited us in my temporary house and went over everything with us. She took all the paperwork we had accumulated and soon identified we were not receiving the correct entitlement plus she gave us advice about other grants we were eligible to apply for. She has been nothing short of brilliant. We wouldn’t have had a clue without her expert eye and I wonder how many other people in my situation are not getting paid what they are entitled to.”
But the help from Perennial didn’t stop at statutory benefits advice, Claire also awarded a Perennial funding grant to cover the cost of flooring, an oven and removal costs for the new adapted property.
“I felt quite uncomfortable about the idea of ‘charity’. There is a lot of stigma surrounding asking for help and I was adamant that we didn’t need it. But we didn’t have an income, we needed to move and needed to adapt a house for my additional needs. We certainly did need help and I don’t regret calling Perennial for a second.”
Perennial isn’t the only charity to have helped Sean and his family over the last 8 months. Spinal injury charity Aspire has been hugely supportive, as has the charity Horatio’s Garden, which builds beautiful gardens at spinal injury units, including Salisbury where Sean spent so long last year. Sean and his family are fundraising for all three this year in the hope that some of the help they have received can be repaid and that awareness can be raised for other people in their situation.
“I really don’t know where would be now without the charities’ help. They do an amazing job – filling gaps left by government agencies unable to cope with the volume and complexity of many cases such as mine. Trees have been my life for so long that it’s difficult to imagine a future without working with them. I won’t let my injury define my life – my children need me and I want them to grow up knowing that anything is possible, regardless of physical ability. Thanks to Perennial, Aspire and the strength of my wife and family I am looking at a future filled with hope and new opportunity.”