A West Lothian man who experienced a traumatic brain injury as the result of an assault has been shortlisted for a national award for his support of fellow brain injury survivors and families.
Colin Robertson, 48, will join just two other finalists chosen from across the UK to be in the running for the title of Volunteer of the Year at the national brain injury awards ceremony organised by Headway – the brain injury association.
The accolade, sponsored by Anthony Gold Solicitors, will be presented at a star-studded ceremony at The Dorchester Hotel in London on Friday 8th December.
When Colin was attacked by three men while on a night out in Livingston, he was continually stamped on so hard he was left with a boot imprint on his head.
“I was in the wrong place, at the wrong time,” said Colin. “It just goes to show how one moment of mindless violence can change a person’s entire life in an instant.”
The attack had ongoing repercussions for Colin including dizziness, blackouts and persistent headaches. Almost a year later, he suffered a subarachnoid haemorrhage, bleeding on the brain, and a variety of other life threatening complications which later left him battling with epilepsy.
His brain injury resulted in a variety of life-changing cognitive, physical, emotional and parental difficulties.
At first Colin was left struggling to eat, speak, read, write, make basic decisions and even remember where he lived or his children’s names. He had to learn to walk again and needed mobility aids for many years.
“I had to completely retrain my brain to be able to speak properly and I couldn’t swallow food without choking,” said Colin. He also experienced anxiety and depression during this time.
“Hidden effects of brain injury can be so subtle that even those closest to you may not notice them. It is easy to overlook errors such as pouring orange juice on your cereal or putting salt instead of sugar in your tea. But it is sometimes these little things that reveal the true complex extent of brain injury. Memory aids can only get you so far.”
“Through my own experience and recovery, I knew that I wanted to help others who were struggling with the impact of brain injury as well as to get the message out there more widely to the general public to raise awareness and understanding about the effects of this hidden disability.”
Colin began volunteering at Edinburgh Headway in 2009 and supported the charity for nearly seven years before becoming involved in other Headway projects across the country. He delivers a programme of educational talks in schools across Scotland as part of a Headway UK initiative to prevent cycling-related head injuries. Since 2013 he has reached out to more than 10,000 pupils and 500 teaching staff.
“The interactive talks I deliver in schools are designed to educate younger people about the effects of a brain injury and the importance of wearing a helmet to hopefully reduce the number of head injuries for future generations,” said Colin.
Colin has also addressed Scottish Parliament to speak out about brain injury in a bid to ensure that all families affected in Scotland receive an effective package of care.
“I didn’t believe a postcode lottery existed until I sustained a brain injury. I was lucky enough to live in West Lothian where neurological services were readily available, but so many other families in Scotland do not have access to immediate and ongoing support they need to rebuild their lives. Speaking out about brain injury to young people who shape the future and politicians who can make real change is vital.”
But Colin’s efforts didn’t stop there. When he heard Headway Tayside were experiencing staffing shortages, he took up the position of chairman to help support the group. He regularly makes the 70-mile journey from home to Dundee to attend committee meetings and rally new members and volunteers to the charity.
Colin was instrumental in creating, organising and running a new activity weekend called BRAW (Bagaduish Activity and Relaxation Weekend). The event was designed to help brain injury survivors socialise and enjoy new challenges together. The event proved so popular every participant wanted the event to continue in 2018, which Colin is now busy preparing.
Joyce Cattanach, development officer for Headway East Lothian, nominated Colin for the award.
She said: “Colin is a great ambassador who works tirelessly to support Headway.
“He donates so much of his time to raising the profile of the charity and raising awareness of brain injury which he is very passionate about.”
“He very firmly believes in supporting the whole family and goes out of his way to make everyone feel welcome at events.
“He has a down to earth friendliness, cheekiness and ability to communicate with others on many levels which makes him a friend to many; once you meet him you never forget him.
“Colin never asks for praise for all his work and thoroughly deserves the recognition that a Headway Award would bring him.”
Each year, Headway Annual Awards celebrates the exceptional efforts of survivors of brain injury, their carers and volunteers. Colin will discover if he will be named Volunteer of the Year at a glittering ceremony at The Dorchester Hotel, in London, on Friday 8 December. Awards for Achiever and Carer of the Year will also be presented by the charity’s Vice President, double Olympic gold medallist James Cracknell, alongside the Stephen McAleese Outstanding Contribution to Headway Award.