Matt Hampson Foundation reaches £1m mark and starts work on rehab centre
Matt Hampson's life-changing rugby union injury left him paralysed from the neck down and ended the career he had set his heart on at the age of just 20.
But his zest for life and inspiring charity work, which has now seen him raise more than £1m, continues to drive him on.
And a unique rehabilitation centre treating people with catastrophic injuries which is under construction and set to be opened in September means many more will benefit in the years to come.
The Get Busy Living Centre near Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire will see Hampson's long-term dream become a reality.
Hampson, now 32, told BBC East Midlands Today: "To see something tangible for the Foundation and for our beneficiaries to come along to, and to be able to offer them a place for home, a purpose, is so, so important.
"We'd spoken about it on numerous occasions, how we wanted to build a centre and things have moved on so quickly. Now it's actually a physical building it's pretty impressive."
"I got stuck in a rut"
Former Leicester Tigers and England youth international Hampson was injured when a scrum collapsed while training with the England Under-21 squad in 2005 and he can only breathe with the help of a ventilator.
But he set up the Matt Hampson Foundation when he came out of hospital which has already helped hundreds of people in similar situations. The Get Busy Living Centre is the next step.
"When I left hospital I got stuck in a rut and didn't really have a purpose and didn't know what to do with the rest of my life," Hampson explained.
"I was very lucky to have a foundation to channel my energy in, to to do something purposeful, but a lot of people haven't got that purpose and that light at the end of the tunnel. This building will offer that help and purpose."
The £1m total has been reached since the Foundation was given charitable status in 2011.
Now the Foundation is laying foundations of a different kind at a derelict old aircraft hanger at Burrough on the Hill.
The site is being transformed into a state-of-the-art facility where beneficiaries will be able to receive physical rehabilitation, spend time with their families and share experiences.
The project has been made possible thanks to a number of local firms and construction companies, many of whom have offered their time services and expertise for free.
And Hampson has an impressive list of stars who have lent their support in all sorts of ways, including ex-England rugby union stars Martin Johnson, Johnny Wilkinson, Mike Tindall and Austin Healey, Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi and England cricketer Stuart Broad.
World Cup winner left in awe
Former England captain and 2003 World Cup winner Tindall, who is patron of the Matt Hampson Foundation, said the new facility will provide a complete service and that Hampson's journey and charitable work remains a huge inspiration.
"I'm in awe of him in terms of how he's coped with the cards he's been dealt and how he's spurred others on," Tindall said. "He doesn't let anything stop him.
"I don't think there's many places out there that are able to provide not just the physio side, the exercise side, maximising that, but also the community side.
"That's one of the main goals of the centre, to pull families in, because I think people forget about that, how hard it becomes for them. It's not just the beneficiaries. Families get confused, they don't understand where's the best place to go to help, what should they be doing?
"Everyone talks about mental health nowadays, bottling things up, being able to have that outlet. Here you are going to naturally create that and I think that will benefit everyone."
Roy Jackson, chairman of the Trustees at the Matt Hampson Foundation, added: "It's always been Matt's dream since his accident to do things for other people. This Get Busy Living centre is going to supply that need.
"It's been nothing but a building site since October, and now to go up there and see the steel up, to walk in, you can actually feel what's going to happen in that building.
"It will be a fantastic place for Matt to continue to inspire people, and realise there is life after a spinal injury.
"I know we've helped over 100 beneficiaries and we've donated more than a million pounds and that will increase when the centre opens. But it's not just the cash. We do more than that. It's the inspiration Matt gives to people. More than just buying wheelchairs or that sort of thing."
"He could only communicate with his eyes"
Natalie Jackson, BBC East Midlands Today sports editor, first interviewed Hampson in hospital 12 years ago, just months after his injury.
"When the accident first happened he couldn't move or speak and only communicate with his eyes," she said.
"Matt spent 17 months in hospital and I spent his last week filming with him before he came home. What stood out even in the months after the accident was his awe-inspiring positivity and love for life.
"He was the life and soul in the Spinal Injuries National Centre at Stoke Manderville. Some people had got their injury while tripping or slipping in the shower. Matt said he was lucky that he got the injury doing something he loved and felt the injury would make him a better person.
"He explained being a sports person you need to be very selfish. He said now he sits and listens to people and has more time for them and felt that he now had an opportunity to help others and change lives. He has lived that sentiment every day since and never ceases to amaze me with his incredible attitude and determination to inspire others."