Keen rugby player Ian Bell was paralysed in a car crash. He was just 27 years old. But he hasn’t let disability stand in the way of success. Catherine Scott meets him.
High perched on a hillside on the edge of the picturesque village of Askrigg Ian Bell runs his successful catering business.
For many climbing the steep drive up to Ian’s cottage would be a challenge, but for Ian who is paralysed from the shoulders down and confined to an electric wheelchair, it seems near impossible.
“I could have moved I suppose,” says the determined 42 year old. “But I grew up in Wensleydale and in this house. I know the people and the area and it is where my family and friends are.”
The keen rugby player and farmer was involved in a car crash on his way home from a match when he was 27 years old.
“I was with some friends in Land Rover when the crash happened and I remember saying ‘I’ve broken my neck’.”
Sadly Ian was right.
He spent three months in intensive care and was then moved to the spinal unit in Pinderfields Hospital where he spent a year trying to come terms both physically and mentally with what had happened to him.
“I grew up in the Dales and am from a farming family. At the time of the accident I was working for a farm management company at Ampleforth College, but there was no way I could continue to do that,” explains Ian.
“I think it helped coming from the family I did. We are rather no nonsense and not very good at feeling sorry for ourselves. It did take me three or four years though to get my head around being in a wheelchair and to work out what I was going to do with the rest of my life.
“But I am really lucky to have the family and friends around me that I do. They really got me through the dark times, although it isn’t something that I have ever really dwelled on. There is no point. I just think what I can do. When I was in the spinal unit one of the biggest motivators was finding ways to get back to work.”
The accident left Ian paralysed from the shoulders down. He has some movement in his arms but is totally reliant on his live in personal assistant.
“When I was in the spinal unit they kept telling me that people with my level of injury didn’t work. But it would drive me bonkers not working. It’s just not the way I was brought up, we all worked hard that’s just the way it was and being paralysed wasn’t going to stop me working. If I didn’t work what was I going to do?
“I’d always had an interest in food and I came up with idea of doing hog roasts.
“It was 2007, before they became so popular at the time there was hardly anyone doing them. They went down a storm. We started with one and now have four.”
Ian runs the business side of Abbotside Events. He uses a special stick which he holds in his mouth to operate his computer.
But he is often called on to be more hands on.
“We now have a catering company which does weddings and other events. And when we are busy I will go along and help out especially with the hog roasts and things.
“I like to be involved in all aspects of the business.”
But Ian feels the hog roast market is now flooded and so has ben on the look out for a new venture which he found, of all places on Ebay.
“I had heard about this guy who makes ox roasting machines down south, a few years ago,” explains Ian.
“I really liked the sound of it. I am a real believer in eating the entire beast and there is no better way than roasting it whole.
“The idea had been in the back of my mind for quite a while and then incredibly I saw one for sale on Ebay.
“He had only made four machines . He’d sold three and kept one himself but he was retiring.”
Ian decided to take a gamble and invested in the Ox Roaster and he is now looking forward to his first event.
“An ox roast can cater for up to 2,000 people,” he explains.
“It means we can travel to events far further away and it is still cost effective.
“Ox roasts are a really traditional feast which go back to Roman times,” he continues. “In this country it has ben a celebration where the wealthy land owners would roast an ox once a year for the entire village. It was a huge celebration as they couldn’t afford to eat meat very often and I would love to see that celebratory type of community event revived.”
And so the Whole Roast Company was born.
“When we talk about a Whole Roast Ox, we’re talking about roasting a whole beef animal that has been reared slowly with care on grass pasture.
“It’s a bit like when we talk about roasting a pig, which we call a hog roast.
“Some people will just love the entire theatre of it. We cook the beast for more than 24 hours so it smells and tastes amazing.”
Ian uses Hereford beef from a farmer in Hawes which is slaughtered at a local abattoir.
“We like to use local produce, the beef doesn’t travel far and there is no stress for the animal. For me it is such an exciting venture; it’s fun,it’s theatre, it is cooking that goes back to our roots and it is great eating.”
Although Ian has only just launched his new business, he is always on the look out for the next venture. He says it is what keeps him sane.
Just this year he was worried that the funding which pays for his PA was going to be cut.
“Without that support I would not be able to run my business and without my business I don’t know what I would do.
“I just want this business to take off and so I don’t have to rely on anyone else to fund the support I need.
“If someone who might had been paralysed or has a disability can read this and see that someone with a C5 spinal injury can run their own business it might just inspire the to have a go which would be great or even if it just gave them a little hope in the dark days.”