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Meet Spencer... He gave volunteering a 'work out'

The English Federation of Disability Sport is celebrating Volunteers’ Week- the annual campaign to celebrate the fantastic contribution millions of volunteers make across the UK. This year’s Volunteers’ Week focuses on saying ‘Thank You’ to the millions of volunteers who regularly contribute to society. Volunteers are the lifeblood of sport and physical activity. Every year, we depend on the time, energy and money of many who support our work. Spencer’s story is just one example of a volunteer in physical activity for disabled people.

Spencer Vaughan is 25 years old. He has always been a very active and sporty person, especially in rugby, surfing and motor-cross. At 20, Spencer acquired a spinal cord injury while a Royal Marine, which left him paralysed from the chest down. He spent fourteen months in a spinal injury unit- ten of those months were spent on permanent bed rest. When he was discharged from hospital, he underwent further rehabilitation at Headley Court (Armed Forces Rehabilitation Centre).

Still keen to be as active as possible, Spencer took part in an InstructAbility course, designed to support disabled people to train as fitness instructors.

The programme was created by Aspire- the spinal injury charity- and YMCAfit. It gives unemployed, disabled people the opportunity to train as fitness instructors and engage in activities, which encourage more disabled people to be active. These instructors can reach new audiences of disabled people who have either been put off taking part previously or not considered it as something for them.

One in four of the InstructAbility graduates has gained employment as a result of the programme with private and public organisations such as Virgin Active, Fitness First, YMCA, GLL and Fusion.

Last year, Aspire received over £850,000 of National Lottery funding from Sport England’s Inclusive Sport fund- part of Sport England’s Places People Play Olympic and Paralympic legacy fund. The funding will support plans to deliver the programme across London, East, South East, West Midlands, North West and East Midlands.

Volunteer placements are 12 weeks long. During this time, the delegates gain experience as a fitness instructor. They are tasked with encouraging more disabled people in the local community to participate in physical activity.

Once qualified, Spencer entered phase two of the programme with a work placement at Plymouth Life Centre. As an accredited Inclusive Fitness Initiative gym it meant that he and disabled people have the chance to enjoy the accessible and welcoming environment. Although Spencer had not previously worked with the public before, his placement which began in early February 2013 saw him working in the gym at the busiest time of year because the Centre was still growing fast after opening in March 2012.

While volunteering, Spencer was keen to motivate other disabled people to exercise:

“I hope I can inspire and motivate other people to move forward with their lives. This is the biggest and busiest gym I have been in, I have enjoyed the position and the insight it has given me to the industry. I would definitely recommend the experience to others.”

Rosi Prescott, Chief Executive of Central YMCA, said:

“I am immensely proud of the InstructAbility programme and our partnership with Aspire. Together we have stimulated massive practical (and psychological) leaps forward in UK PLCs’ appreciation for and understanding of the outstanding contribution disabled people make to our volunteering and work forces.”

Alex Fuoco-Lang, Health and Wellbeing Manager at Everyone Active, said:

“Spencer’s placement has been an extremely positive experience, he has helped educate and inform our team members and our customers. This initiative has tied in well with our recent achievement of the Inclusive Fitness Initiative (IFI) provisional level. Plus, Spencer’s encouraging and enthusiastic feedback about the team and the gym environment means we would be happy to consider further placements through the InstructAbility programme.”


Spencer hopes to go to University when he leaves the Royal Marines next year. He feels that the InstructAbility programme will help by getting him back into the learning environment and provide opportunities for part time employment whilst studying.  He continued:

“Before starting the course I had a vague idea about what I wanted to do. Now I feel very positive and have a clear vision for the future.”

Since volunteering, the Plymouth Life Centre has offered Spencer the opportunity of casual employment over the intervening months before he leaves for University.

Anyone who is interested in applying can find further information on the Aspire website 

Or contact the National Project Manager, Hilary Farmiloe on 07917 822977 

We hope many more disabled people volunteer to be active- on and off the field of play.

Volunteers’  Week runs from 1-7 June. Find out more and to get involved visit the new Volunteers' Week website.

Looking for a volunteering opportunity to suit you visit our I want to volunteer page. Or get in touch with EFDS to find out how you can help support our work.

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