accessibility & help

Red Cross to the rescue in Torquay

19 January 2009

Man in Wheelchair pushed by wife 100© InfoThe British Red Cross has stepped in to help a local man whose wheelchair was stolen just before Christmas. Howard Birch, 57, was in the Torwood Conservative Club when thieves made off with his chair, which he had left outside. The chair was on loan from the Red Cross medical equipment service.

Despite friends offering a £100 reward, the wheelchair was never returned so the Red Cross offered to loan Howard another chair, free of charge, while he recovers from a broken leg he sustained from a fall at his home. 

Howard’s partner Shenagh said: “When the phone rang and I heard it was Jason from the Red Cross, my first thought was 'uh oh!' I really wanted it to have been found before I spoke to them and I thought they were calling to ask for us to pay for it. 

"But instead, Jason asked me if we wanted a replacement, free of charge. Having the wheelchair over Christmas really meant a lot because without it Howard was virtually housebound – he couldn’t get past the front gate.”


British Red Cross service co-ordinator Jason Garner said: “The first we heard about Howard’s story was when we read it in the paper. I decided to give him a call to see if we could lend another wheelchair to him in time for Christmas. We managed to deliver one to his door the Monday before Christmas Day.

Jason continued: “For a person with mobility problems, having a wheelchair or walking aid can mean the difference between leading a comfortable life and being a prisoner in their home."

Shenagh agreed. “Having the wheelchair was an absolute lifesaver because Howard just couldn’t go out without it. We haven’t been doing the ten tors in it or anything, but it just meant that he could go to the pub and watch the football, something he really enjoys doing. We even took it to Buckfast Abbey the other day – it was lovely.”

Medical equiment volunteering 

In Torbay, British Red Cross volunteers provide wheelchair hire and short-term loans of equipment, helping hundreds of people every year. The service gives people freedom, helping them to return to their own homes after illness or surgery or enabling them to go on holiday with friends or family.

It costs £30 per month for the Red Cross to provide people like Howard with a wheelchair.

Find out how to borrow a wheelchair in Devon

Become a medical equipment volunteer