Matt Hampson signed professional terms with the Leicester Tigers at almost the same time that I commenced my 2 year term as President. Matt's injury was a determining part of my first year, as being able to concentrate my time to fundraising made my 2 years very special.
I will never forget the trip to Munster, when a couple of Tigers members, unable to make the trip, sent their 2 tickets to the Munster Supporters Club. They in turn organized a raffle for the tickets with all proceeds going to Matt's Trust. I believe the total amount raised was nearly £8,000, what special people are involved with our game. The fact that we won in Thomond Park made the weekend one that will stay in the memory forever.
I was very nervous on my first trip to Stoke Mandeville Hospital to meet Matt with Dusty Hare. Dusty was, at the time, our chief scout and also helped with the Tigers Academy, he knew Matt very well and simply said, "Hambo would put me at ease and told me not to worry". All very well I thought, what exactly do you say to a 20 year old lad who has just suffered a catastrophic injury whilst training for his country's U21 XV. Anyway, true to Dusty's word, Hambo indeed put me at ease and there followed a couple of hours of talking rugby etc. etc.
That first couple of hours led to a weekly trip to Aylesbury, not down to presidential duty, it was simply because a solid friendship had begun, even with a 40 year age difference. Hambo became an important part of my life and the ensuing 8 years have been full of episodes and adventures never to be forgotten.
Soon after Matt's accident a Fundraising Committee was formed, made up of many people prepared to help raise funds for Matt's Trust Fund. We arranged dinners, dances, summer balls, walks and many many other events. We encouraged help from all the local media groups, Leicester Mercury, Radio Leicester, Midlands TV both BBC & ITV and let's not forget the help from the Tigers and indeed the game of rugby as a whole. The media and the Tigers gave us the opportunity to raise our profile and begin raising funds both locally and nationwide. The players and in particularly Matt Cornwell, played such an important part in raising money and profile for Matt and I know that their input will never be taken for granted, then, now and in the future.
There were many individuals who helped us raise a considerable amount of money to enable Matt to live the life he so richly deserves. To name so many who helped in those early years would no doubt cause me to forget important individual fundraisers. Having said that, it would be wrong of me not to mention Sue Dowse and Frances Dickens who were our Dinner ladies. Sue organized, in her own way, two Summer Balls at Marston Trussell Hall and Frances was the brains behind our 6 Nations Dinners held during the annual tournament. It is still the go to Rugby Dinner in London and we thank the England coaches and players for giving their invaluable support. These two ladies set the standards that we are now so proud of in all our fundraising efforts and events.
The Walk4Matt is another special event that has raised thousands of pounds over the years. A 115 mile trek over 7 days from Rugby to London to watch the Premiership Grand Final, along the Grand Union Canal towpath, accompanied by 12 narrow boats is something that is pretty unique. Special thanks go to Jane & Glen Coleman and Tony Bolton who make this epic journey go like clockwork. These events now play an important part in the Foundation's fundraising for others.
As I stated earlier, when you start mentioning names there is always the chance that you will forget somebody really important, however how can you leave out Tommy Cawston. Tommy has been part of the Matt Hampson story virtually since the accident. Tommy a physiotherapist came on board to help with general fundraising. He is now CEO of the Charity, is in daily , almost hourly contact with Matt and steers the ship. Tommy, married to Katie is now a proud father of Lucie and he involves his family in all that we do. If he didn't, he probably would never see them, as the Matt Hampson Foundation does not know the meaning of 9 'til 5.
Once the target for Matt's financial future was reached Matt couldn't commence work on his charity soon enough. The Matt Hampson Foundation was formed in December 2010 and Matt has worked endlessly since that first day. To quote Henry Fraser " Matt is one of the busiest people I've ever met and leads the way for others to follow" I have said this many times, virtually since his accident, it was Matt's intention to help others with similar needs. Indeed, this desire started many years before the Matt Hampson Foundation was founded. The Foundation has steadily built a team, mainly from our known fundraisers and we are going from strength to strength. Little did we know that within 3 years we would have helped save a 16 year old boy's life in South Africa and move him to Paris, helped make another young man's life bearable and more enjoyable in Samoa. We have supplied lifts, wheelchairs, sporting equipment and helped so many get busy living. Matt has always stated that there is life after a spinal injury and boy does he prove it. Where we believe that the Matt Hampson Foundation is unique, is that we don't just help by supplying material things, we help young people continue to live their lives to the full. Nobody knows their needs more than Matt, he is living the same journey and fulfilling the expectations many thought was a thing of the past. Matt is without doubt the most inspirational and positive young man it has been my honour to know. He has the final say on how and where the support is given. It is his understanding of others in similar situations that allow the Foundation to help in the best way we can.