Back Up, using innovation to improve the rates of people with Spinal Cord Injury returning to work.

Through a targeted and pioneering approach Back Up is improving the rates of people with Spinal Cord Injury finding their way back to work.

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  • Yes, I fulfill all of the eligibility criteria.

Initiative's representative name

Oliver Thorn

Initiative's representative date of birth


Initiative’s representative gender

  • Man

Which eligible market are you based in?

  • UK

Where are you making a difference?

Residential Courses - Nationwide, 11 locations. Early Intervention Model - Sheffield.

Website or social media url(s)

When was your organisation founded?

May / 1986

Focus areas

  • Reskilling and upskilling the workforce

Project Stage

  • Established (successfully passed early phases, have a plan for the future)

Yearly Budget: How much capital do you need to accomplish your proposed project?

  • $1mil - $5mil

Organisation Type

  • Non-profit / NGO

1. Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed

The majority of people who work for the Back Up have a spinal cord injury (SCI) and we know the impact that work has. Work gives us social networks, financial independence, purpose, structure and the meaning of leisure as well as much more. Being out of work is extensively evidenced to be a huge risk to physical and mental health. Although the majority of people work that for the charity have an SCI, it is actually rare to see someone with a SCI in work , currently less than 30% of people of working age go back to work, a figure that shocks us as at the charity. We knew we had to do something for the spinal injury community and give people the support they deserved to get back into employment.

2. The problem: What problem surrounding employability or financial capability are you helping to solve?

Only 1/3 people with an SCI return to work. The reasons? A report by MASCIP, an SCI steering group found that UK return-to-work support is not consistent or proactive”. Only 9% of people received work-support in hospital in 2017, and a belief is common that work is “not possible, desirable or necessary”. Companies are missing out on hiring more people with SCI’s, people with the confidence and grit it takes to overcome an injury.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Back Up is solving this problem. We offer a Residential Training Course (Back Up to Work), a Vocational Toolkit, and an Early Intervention Vocational Model. The Back Up to Work course teaches practical skills and confidence. People with SCI receive advice on how to manage returning to work with an SCI, CV and interview skills and job hunting advice. The courses are peer-led. Meeting others who have returned to work can be life changing. The Vocational Toolkit contains content on managing work, CV and interview skills, and case studies of people who have re-entered work. It can be accessed using voice controls. The Early Intervention Model is being piloted in Sheffield’s Spinal Injury Centre, and has been applied in Australasia. The model educates the employer on SCI, invites them to visit the patient, and supports patients to visit their workplace. The centre we have chosen for this trial supported 106 people in 2019. It will reach everyone who uses the centre. By intervening at this stage instead of later, when a view of work mentioned earlier as “not possible, undesirable or unnecessary” has set in, the model increases the chance the patient will see work as possible.

4. How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solving the problem?

The Early Intervention Model (EIM) is a unique and innovative approach. Nothing like it has been applied in the UK previously. The results from the pilots in New Zealand and Australia show that the model works. It makes a difference by encouraging patients to maintain active links with their pre-injury employers, and by highlighting the mental, physical, and financial benefits of work. It also contributes to their wider rehab. The Vocational Toolkit is totally unique, there is not any other Vocational Toolkit available for people with SCI. It is a crucial resource for people with SCI. The Back to Work course is the only course of it’s kind. It solves the problem by focusing on confidence, resolve and practical skills.

5. Employability: how is your organization or project teaching people to develop the skills that they need to survive in the future job market?

The projects build a foundation for people with SCI they can use throughout their career. A key aspect of this is the peer-led nature of the programme. The problem we have, is not a lack of talent, but a feeling that work is not possible. By having a peer-led programme, this is confronted, simply by two people being in a room together. The course provides training on how to manage having an SCI in work; for example the opinions of colleagues. The Toolkit can be used throughout their professional life. The Early Intervention Model is key to improving the rates of SCI patients returning to work.

5a. Please describe which future-oriented skills your organization is focused on fostering and how you have measured / plan to measure progress

The two core future focused skills the projects delivers are confidence and resilience. Professional confidence is somewhat different from the confidence we display to our family and friends. What is shared in both though, is a need to maintain a view of ourselves as capable and equipped for the task at hand. This is the key skill Back Up’s Vocation projects foster. We have and will measure the progress of the course, using a charity CRM system and reporting software. We can quickly and accurately report on the number of people we have communicated with, separated down to individuals wit

7. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

SIA (Spinal Injuries Association) and Aspire. SIA deliver a vocational skills session. Aspire does not provide any professional support. This session SIA delivers does not intervene early enough, before the ideas of work as “not possible, desirable or necessary” have set in. The sessions last 1 hour, and does not provide enough training and support to have a lasting impact. Our approach does intervene early enough, and does offer a residential 2 day course. This course is researched, intensive and well planned enough to produce the results we receive.

8. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

Back Up supported 1,654 people in 2019. In 2018/19, we delivered three Back Up to Work courses across the UK. 100% of attendees surveyed felt more confident about returning to employment and applying for jobs following the course. We delivered three Back Up to Work courses in various locations around the UK in 2017/18. Four people who attended the course that year are now in employment, with several others now undertaking voluntary work. 100% of participants surveyed reported they now viewed work with a SCI as more manageable.

9. Financial Sustainability Plan. Can you tell us about you plan to fund your project and how that plan will be sustainable in the short, medium, and long term?

We have been running for 35 years, last year we raised £1.75 million. This has increased consistently over the years. In 2018 we raised £1.62 million, in 2017 we raised £1.60 million. This is through a number of diverse channels; Corporate, Events, Individual Giving and Other Income. We will continue to fund the vocation project through utilising these diverse channels, in addition to reaching out to new corporates. We see no reason why this should change in the future.

10. Team

Lucy oversees our Vocation work. She has 12 years experience of living with a spinal cord injury and previously ran the patient education programme at Stoke Mandeville, the National Spinal Injury Centre. She has lived experience of the challenges of getting back to work. She is supported in the delivery of the projects by our Outreach and Support Coordinators, wider office staff and number of our 400 UK volunteers.

Help Us Support Diversity! Are you a member of an under-served , under-represented, or marginalized group in your country of residence? (yes/no) (this question is optional – if you choose to fill it out, the response will not be shared with your fellow contestants)

  • Race

If you selected “yes” to any of the categories above, please explain how being a member of this group has impacted you and your work?

Having a shared cultural history has helped me to understand diverse beliefs and opinions. This is key to working for a charity like Back Up. We have a diverse workforce, lead by people with with Spinal Cord Injury. It is so important to be able to understand another perspective and experience of life.

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • HBSC page or contact


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