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We are delighted to be able to support two of the SIA’s Peer Support Officers, thereby helping SIA ensure people with spinal cord injury can get advice and assistance whenever they need it. The SIA Peer Support Service has 14 Peer Support Officers and two managers covering designated areas of the country. As well as visiting newly injured people in spinal centres and other hospitals in their areas, they also provide support to people on discharge, which is often when issues arise.

In October 2015, Irwin Mitchell sponsored two of the Peer Support Officers: Charlie Hart, who covers North London and Ali Gibson whose area is the East Midlands. We asked both of them to tell us a bit about themselves and how they see their role at SIA.

Charlie Hart – Peer Support Officer (North London) - Before becoming part of the SIA team, my training and work life involved teaching young people with special needs. I also volunteered with some children’s disability charities, but despite sustaining my spinal chord injury at a young age, I never really had any support or involvement from others on a personal level.

When growing up, I often took on the unofficial role of an ‘everyone supporter’ as I was known for offering help, had a good listening ear and was happy to support anyone who was struggling with school, friendships or life. This, my background in teaching and my experience of moving from my home in Holland to attend university in Oxford - entirely independently - have all provided solid foundations for the role of a SIA Peer Support Officers. I am, however, still learning and developing with each person I meet, as every individual’s situation has its nuances.

It is great to be working in a stimulating, challenging environment that is filled with other people who care passionately about putting building blocks in place for SCI people to discover their new beginnings.

Ali Gibson – Peer Support Officer (East Midlands) - I was 23 years old when I sustained my SCI in 1996 whilst on holiday in Tenerife. There was a severe wind storm; a tree was blown down and it landed on me, resulting in my T12 complete paraplegia.

I have since been very fortunate and able to move out of the family home to live independently, return to work and to attend university, graduating with a first-class honours degree in psychology in 2006. I have had opportunities to pursue a new career and volunteer roles in areas of work that aim to improve people’s quality of life following neurological disability. Most importantly, in 2008, I became a mum to the most beautiful girl; Sarah. Prior to joining the SIA team, my most recent employment was in academic research developing rehabilitation services that assist people with neurological conditions to return to work and/or education.

I am absolutely delighted and feel privileged to be part of the SIA and its Peer Support Service as I believe peer support for everyone affected by SCI to be hugely beneficial; not just from ‘day one’ but throughout life as it brings new challenges. I love my new role as it enables me to utilise my previous experiences and knowledge to support others in many different ways. But it is a ‘team effort’ as all of the trustees, employees and volunteers at SIA work together to support all people affected by spinal cord injury.

Visit my blog to read about my experiences of pregnancy where I share my personal experiences of pregnancy, parenting and life in general following spinal cord injury: www. parentsinwheelchairs.com

We feel Charlie and Ali are great ambassadors for the SIA and will be well placed to help newly-injured people. We are delighted to be able to support their roles.