Humans of the Wheatbelt - Colin Hassell

Humans of the Wheatbelt is an initiative run by the Wheatbelt Health Network.

Humans of the Wheatbelt is an initiative run by the Wheatbelt Health Network.

I moved to Australia from the UK in 1986 and 6 years ago I moved to Bakers Hill from Geraldton.

I love Bakers Hill because it's a smaller community but most of the people I've come across here are community minded. I am part of the Progress Association and we have many community projects which we are working on underway. Two of the annual events that the Progress Association organises are the Christmas Fair and the Australia Day celebrations which include a big breakfast for everyone to come along and enjoy themselves. I've surrounded myself with people who are like-minded and care about where we live.

About 40 years ago in the UK I started a charity organisation called Challengers which provided local disabled children a place to play and socialise, to combat the severe isolation faced by these children and their families. Having taught swimming lessons for many years, I branched out and started classes for children with special needs - initially children 5-14 years then 0-4 years and then adults, particularly visually challenged.

In 1982 I guided a blind athlete around the New York Marathon and again in 1985 with the London to Paris - my philosophy is 'give anyone a chance, anything is possible'.

The Challengers charity is still going in the UK. We started up with one centre and 4 staff, and now have 25 centres and 500 plus staff, and an enormous number of volunteers. I get immeasurable happiness and satisfaction out of the contribution I've made to Challengers.

Two things inspired me to run the London Marathon last year. The first was my age - I set myself a goal many years ago, to run a marathon at 80, a half marathon at 90 and a mile at 100 (whether I get there or not is another thing!) so 2018 having been my 70th birthday year, I thought here is a good opportunity to run the marathon and raise money for the Challengers Playground, because they were celebrating their 40th year, which is a major milestone.

Last year I was elected as President of the Royal Lifesaving Society of WA, and it was an amazing honour when they approached me to take the position. My main goal as President of RLSS is to prevent drownings. For every drowning there are three non-fatal drownings resulting in permanent intellectual or physical challenges to the person which is compounded by the impact on the family, let alone the child, and these are phenomenal and devastating.

The RLSS (WA) grant funds are designed to specifically help families in a time of crisis. We have a fund now where we can issue grants out to people to help raise awareness and prevent these drownings. Our main goal is to educate more people that if you are a parent, you need to learn how to swim, learn how to resuscitate, and supervise your children. It's so basic but so important when we live in this climate.

In 2004 I was involved in organising the Swim Across Australia - it was a special event. A councillor in Geraldton was watching Grant Hackett swim and commented "I think we can do better than that, we should try and Swim Across Australia". So, I went away and I dreamt about having a pool on the back of a truck, then I convinced some local engineering friends of mine to give my crazy idea a go and try to build it.

The idea of the Swim Across Australia was to raise awareness of pool drownings and we swam from Geraldton to Sydney. The design of the pool was very unique in that the lifeguard had to watch the road and pump water around the pool to make sure water didn't spill out going up or down hills or around corners.

There are three projects which I am working on which firstly include planning a second event to circumvent Australia on the back of a truck in 2020. We are doing this to raise awareness of backyard drownings and mental health. Secondly, I would love a heated hydrotherapy pool within the Avon region as unfortunately, we don't have that facility here at the Wooroloo Pool. The value of a hydrotherapy pool can never be under estimated, and can help people with pre/post-operative injuries, whiplash and neck pain, sports injuries, rheumatoid arthritis & fibromyalgia, Parkinson's disease, the list goes on and on!

The third project is the Bakers Hill Railway Project - in partnership with the Shire of Northam, the Bakers Hill Progress Association are going to restore the Bakers Hill Railway Siding. The last remaining double-sided station, the project aim includes locating several railway carriages designed to provide business opportunities for local people.

We have autistic children who attend out of normal hours when the pool is without other patrons as the reduced stimulus helps them. I also help a few adults to learn to swim and I get great satisfaction from it as I can see a result.

The most influential person in my life has been my brother John. He has always backed me completely. I would go to him with some ideas, and sometimes we would think "that cannot be done" but we would work it out. We've always been together and me emigrating to Australia was a big struggle for me, to be apart from him. He's the best friend I've ever had.

I'm lucky I am healthy, I attribute that to many things, obviously you've got to look after yourself but I am lucky too, so if I can't put something back in, there is something wrong.

Human - Colin Hassell

Photographer & interviewer - Cilla Wilson