On what was described by Headway Chairman Andrew Green MBE as ‘a momentous day’, Prince Harry spent more than an hour at Headway, where he met with a selection of people directly affected by brain injury to learn more about its effects and the help provided by the charity.
“We are absolutely thrilled with the visit,” said Andrew. “Prince Harry was genuinely interested in the personal experiences of the brain injury survivors and carers he met and was keen to learn more. He asked lots of pertinent questions, which meant a great deal to those he met.
“We are so grateful to the Prince for taking the time to visit us. This event, with all the associated media coverage, will give a huge boost to the profile of the charity and make more people aware that we’re here to help.”
Always keep them waiting...
Choosing Headway for the destination of his first official solo engagement, Prince Harry left civic dignitaries waiting on his arrival as he chose to greet hundreds of thrilled schoolchildren who had been invited to the event.
With flags waving and repeated chants of ‘Harry! Harry!’, the Prince delighted the youngsters by chatting and joking with several of them. He was then introduced to Sir John Peace, Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire, Councillor Carol Pepper, Chair of Nottinghamshire County Council, Nicola Weston, High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire, and David Pearson, Deputy CEO of Nottinghamshire County Council.
Prince Harry then began his tour of the centre, hosted by Andrew Green and Headway Chief Executive Peter McCabe.
First stop on the tour was The Alex Richardson Board Room, named after a young man who sustained a brain injury and passed away in March 2009.
Since Alex’s untimely death at the age of 21, his parents – Annie and Chris – along with their family and friends have worked tirelessly to support Headway through major donations and sponsored events.
Annie and Chris are Honorary Life Members of Headway and Annie is also a Trustee of the charity. The couple were among the first to be introduced to Prince Harry, before Peter McCabe provided an introduction to the work of the charity.
This was complemented by an interactive workshop designed to give the Prince a sound understanding of how brain injury can affect people.
Run by Headway Training Manager, Ed Arnoll, who was assisted by brain injury survivor Dominic Hurley, a former winner of the Headway Achiever of the Year award, the experiential workshop simulated some of the effects of brain injury.
Thankfully, the Prince was more than willing to get involved, first negotiating some bollards while wearing vision-impairing glasses that affect one’s sight and balance, before taking on a challenge that proved to be popular with media across the world.
“We wanted to show Prince Harry how brain injury can make simple everyday tasks a huge challenge for some people,” said Dominic.
“When my daughter, Nina, was in nappies, my one-sided weakness made it incredibly difficult for me to change her. So, to try to replicate how that feels, we asked Prince Harry to hold a dumbbell in his dominant hand and try to change a doll’s nappy with just his other hand.
“It’s great that he gave it a go, but it’s probably just as well that he was only using a doll to practice on, as grabbing babies by one leg to flip them over onto their front is not normally accepted childcare practice!” joked Dominic.
Even Prince Harry joked that he wasn't doing brilliantly, commenting: “All the mothers will be saying ‘Don't let him near the children!’”
He also said: “This is exactly how my brother's going to be.”
Helpline receives special praise
The next stop on the tour was the helpline, where the Prince spent time talking with the team of support workers as well as asking questions about the charity’s award-winning website and range of publications.
“He was genuinely interested in learning about the work we do,” said Cheryl Cousins, Helpline Manager. “We explained the varied nature of the calls we receive, from people asking for contact details of their local Group or Branch, through to intense calls from those in desperate need of help and comfort.”
‘He really listened’
A chat over a cup of coffee was next on the agenda as Prince Harry sat down with a group of people who have been helped by Headway.
The Headway Emergency Fund provides financial support to families and individuals struggling to cope with the practical implications of sudden catastrophic brain injury.
The fund provides grants of up to £500 with the money typically being used to cover the travel costs of people visiting loved ones in hospital or rehabilitation. It can also be used to pay for emergency accommodation, provide breaks for carers, or to meet any additional costs incurred in the immediate aftermath of a brain injury.
All reasonable requests are considered, with practical help from the fund’s volunteers and staff also provided alongside the payments.
Dan East is one of hundreds of people to have benefited from the fund since it was launched in June 2011. Dan sustained a brain injury in September 2010 after being violently assaulted in an unprovoked attack. He made good progress in his recovery but was unable to return to his previous employment as his Site Management Safety Training certificate had expired.
“Without an up-to-date safety certificate, I was basically unemployable,” said Dan. “It was frustrating as I’d made a good recovery and just wanted to take the next step of returning to work, but I couldn’t afford to pay for the course.
“I applied to the Headway Emergency Fund, which agreed to pay for me to go on the course. I passed and soon enough managed to find a new job.
“It was wonderful to be able to tell Prince Harry how my brain injury affected me and my family. My partner, Karen, was with me and we explained how my brain injury changed me and put greater pressure on our relationship. We were also able to tell him how much help Headway has been.
“He really listened to us and seemed to really care about what we had to say.”
HATS nurse project
The Prince was also introduced to Sue Briggs, who has been receiving support over the past year from HATS nurse Alex Power.
Headway Acute Trauma Support (HATS) nurses are based in or close to acute trauma support units and provide emotional and practical support to families of people in the early stages following a brain injury.
Sue’s partner, Pete, was a police officer responding to a 999 call when his patrol car crashed into a tree. He was taken to the hospital where Sue works as a nurse.
He was not expected to survive, however the day after Prince Harry’s visit marked the first anniversary of the accident and Pete is making good progress in a rehabilitation unit.
“Over the past year, Alex has been a huge support to me,” said Sue. “She’s provided a listening ear when I just needed to talk, she’s attended doctors’ meetings about Pete’s care, and she’s provided guidance about benefits and practical issues.
“She offered me a lifeline to cling on to and I genuinely don’t know how I would have got through this without her.
“I was honoured to have been able to explain to Prince Harry just how important Headway’s work is to carers and family members as it is to those who sustain the injury.”
Simon Hales, who bravely featured in television documentary My New Brain, which depicted the early phase of his recovery, and Dominic Hurley also joined in the chat, sharing their experiences of living with a brain injury.
The visit also saw Prince Harry meet with James Cracknell, Headway’s Vice President, Johnson Beharry VC and Tom Birch, all of whom are affected by brain injury. The trio are all members of the Headway Charity Challenge Team, which will be taking on a physical challenge in 2014.
They were presented with two different challenges to choose from before inviting Prince Harry to join them on their quest to either trek across the peaks of the Highlands or to paddle, cycle and trek through Dartmoor. Despite not providing a firm answer on whether he’ll join the team for all or part of their chosen challenge, hopes are high that James and his teammates might be able to persuade Prince Harry to dig out his walking boots.
After delivering a moving speech in which he thanked volunteers and staff for their hard work, while also praising those who shared with him their personal experiences of brain injury, Prince Harry was left with his final task of the day – unveiling a plaque and declaring the building officially open.
“Today’s short visit,” said the Prince, “has enabled me to gain a real understanding, and from talking to the guys next door (on the helpline) of how accidents that have happened can change people’s lives.
“But essentially, (by meeting) the volunteers, staff and those directly affected by brain injury, it is immediately clear what an impact it can have.”
Prince Harry’s visit to Headway provided the charity with an opportunity to boost its profile and raise awareness of brain injury – and it was an opportunity that was not missed!
Television news cameras representing all the major national news channels were present, along with photographers and journalists from national and local newspapers.
“We are absolutely delighted with the amount of hugely positive news coverage this visit has helped us secure,” said Luke Griggs, Communications Manager.
“With 22 television news items across the BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 5 – including live interviews on both BBC East Midlands Today and the national Sky News channel – and with articles in many of the national newspapers, viewing and readership numbers topped 84 million.
“It’s a difficult number to fathom, but we are thrilled that so many more people will now have heard about Headway and learned of the invaluable work we do. I hope this will give a boost to every single person in the UK and Channel Islands affected by brain injury.”Back