A local brain injury charity has asked one of the carers it supports to officially open a new annexe at its centre in Rednal.

Peter cutting the ribbon to declare The Woodlands open (L to R) Peter Howell (Carer) with scissors next to his wife Val (Client) & David Chater (Chair of the Trustees at Headway Birmingham & Solihull) behind
Peter cutting the ribbon to declare The Woodlands open (L to R) Peter Howell (Carer) with scissors next to his wife Val (Client) & David Chater (Chair of the Trustees at Headway Birmingham & Solihull) behind

Peter Howell, age 71 from Bournville, has been involved with Headway Birmingham & Solihull for more than five years after his wife, Val, sustained a life-changing brain injury.

Val, 57, suffered a broken skull, bleeding to the brain, hearing loss and a range of behavioural issues after falling down a concrete staircase at her workplace in January 2011. Peter was her sole carer after her discharge from hospital but was struggling to cope when he made that first phone call to Headway’s helpline.

“Val was like a two-year-old when she first woke up after her accident,” he said. “I wasn’t worried at first – I really thought that her brain injury would be fixed over time like a broken leg. But after six months at home, I started to realise that neither of our lives would ever be the same again. Her speech had deteriorated, she was refusing to take her medication and her behaviour was increasingly difficult. She’d changed from being sweet-natured to abusive and argumentative, even nasty at times. We needed help.”

He explained how he rang Headway Birmingham & Solihull and spoke to a helpful and understanding lady called Sue from the charity’s Carer Services department who arranged to visit him and Val at home.

He continued: “This support was invaluable – Sue arranged a social worker, advised on financial matters and even attended meetings with us. She was instrumental in getting funding for Val to attend rehabilitation sessions at Headway’s brain injury centre and in putting me in touch with other carers.”

Val has been a regular at Headway since this time, benefitting from the specialist brain injury sessions she attends and enjoying the friendships she has made along the way.

Peter says he has now accepted that the “old Val” has gone and he is learning to enjoy the “new Val”.

“My life continues to revolve around Val’s needs – such as organising her transport for the following day, for example, – but I now understand that I need to look after my health and well-being as well. I was at cracking point and could not have reached this stage without the support of Headway and the other carers that I have met through the charity.

“They have taught me that I can and should take time for myself. A carer cannot look after someone else if they don’t look after themselves. I am passionate about the importance of the Carers Groups. Opening up, talking and sharing our experiences is such a great support and I’d urge anyone in a similar situation to seek help.”

Nancy Khan, Carer Services Manager at Headway Birmingham & Solihull, added: “Peter is a great ambassador for the work of Headway, particularly in promoting our carer services which can make such a difference in those early days when a family’s world is turned upside down following a severe brain injury. We are delighted that he agreed to take part in the official opening of the new annexe at Leighton House which has created extra capacity for both the brain injury and carer services we offer.”

The new annexe, located in the grounds of the charity’s Leighton House brain injury unit in Rednal, was completed earlier this year and both the build and the fittings and furnishings were financed by grants from several local and national trust funds.

The charity’s trustees, staff, clients and carers joined representatives from some of the trust funds to celebrate the completion of the new annexe, now known as The Woodlands. Peter Howell then cut the ribbon and declared the new annexe officially open.

David Chater, Chair of the Trustees at Headway Birmingham & Solihull, said: “I’d like to thank everyone involved in the project, especially those who contributed so generously towards its funding. The extra space created has helped reduce the waiting list for our specialist brain injury services and will ensure future capacity moving forwards, which is so important when demand continues to grow year on year.”

He also thanked local contractors Mantons who completed the build on schedule and within budget. The new annexe includes a large training room, two smaller rooms, a WC and kitchen area, all with full disabled access.

Anyone wanting more information on Headway Birmingham & Solihull can call the Enquiry Line on 0121 457 7541 (option 1), email enquiries@headway-bs.org.uk or visit www.headway-bs.org.uk .

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