Lucky 13: The brave teen who defied doctors' predictions and raised a fortune

Oliver and family, at the Grand Re-opening. (Steve Barber)
Oliver and family, at the Grand Re-opening. (Steve Barber)

When Oliver Voysey acquired a brain injury in hospital just two days after his birth, doctors prepared his parents for the worst.

"They told us he was very, very poorly and wasn’t expected to pull through," says his mother Sarah, 45, who works for the Environment Agency. 

"Oliver had lost half of his brain and most of his sight. He had cerebral palsy, epilepsy and autism. They said his hearing might be ok but he had had a tracheostomy so we’d never hear him cry. 

"My husband Gary and I went through a kind of grief. We knew that even if Oliver survived, we were going to be caring for and loving a very different baby from the one we had expected. Doctors told us that if he did pull through, he’d never be able to even sit up by himself."

Thirteen years after that bleak prognosis however and Oliver is doing more than simply sitting. 

He’s abseiling, rock-climbing, kayaking, bungee jumping, horse riding and even wading through waterfalls – all thanks to an amazing charity which helps disabled people and their families have the holidays of a lifetime.

Oliver at the Calvert Trust with mum Sarah (Steve Barber)
Oliver at the Calvert Trust with mum Sarah (Steve Barber)

Read more: Can a brain injury change who you are?

"It has not been an easy journey, but even as a baby, I knew that Oliver had a spark in his eye and I remember saying to a doctor that one day my son would walk into his office – and he did, when he was only four years old," says Sarah, from Northumberland. 

"Oliver had to undergo intensive therapy to be able to move and walk but he did it. Yet life was becoming harder as he got older, he was losing motivation. Which is where the Calvert Trust came in.

Watch: Teenager raises £28k for charities with his random acts of kindness

"Gary and I had always loved the Lake District, where the Trust is based, and would often spend time there before we had children but as Oliver grew and we needed to adapt to doing things with wheelchairs and equipment, we thought those kinds of places were out of bounds. 

"We went on holiday to other camps and resorts but while Gary would go off on adventures with our younger daughter Elizabeth, who is now 10, I’d stay behind with Oliver – we were losing out on shared memories.

"But from the moment we had a holiday at The Calvert Trust, everything changed. The staff there have a ‘Yes…if’ attitude meaning that we can ask them if it’s possible for Oliver to do something like rock climbing they always say: ‘Yes…if we can get enough staff/equipment’. 

Oliver loves to test himself against the activities at The Calvert Trust. (Steve Barber)
Oliver loves to test himself against the activities at The Calvert Trust. (Steve Barber)

"It means it’s a break for all of us and Oliver absolutely loves it. Doing the activities alongside able-bodied people gives him the feeling that he’s equal to everyone else and he always cries whenever we have to leave. He often says to me: ‘Mummy, we’re all the same here.’"

The Calvert Trust helps children and adults with disabilities. But earlier this year it faced closure after losing more than £1m in income due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Not if Oliver had anything to do with it, however.

"When we discovered that the centre could close, Oliver wanted to fundraise to keep it open and we agreed that we could try to raise some money, thinking it would only be around £2,000," says Sarah. 

"But Oliver had bigger ideas. He wanted to raise a million pounds and as he was turning 13 in the January, he suggested that everyone should do something around the number 13, ending in a face-plant in a bowl of custard or cream.

Celebrating completing the zip wire and raising £250,000 (Supplied)
Celebrating completing the zip wire and raising £250,000 (Supplied)

Read more: UK teen with learning and physical difficulties raises £28k for charities through acts of kindness

"So we recruited family and friends – who we have always nicknamed Oliver’s Army – to do their little bit, whether it was riding 13 miles on a bike, learning a phrase in 13 languages or even eating 13 cucumbers. 

"Oliver stood up on his own for 13 seconds while his sister blew on her trumpet for 13 – very long – seconds! It was going really well and we thought we’d hit £25,000."

But incredibly, word began to spread all over the world. Friends in Thailand, Africa, Dubai and Australia joined Oliver’s Army until over 3,000 people were fundraising. 

The total now stands at nearly £250,000 and The Calvert Trust has re-opened. Last week, Oliver was given an award from the Prime Minister for his fundraising efforts.

"We’re so happy and I’m really proud of both my children," says Sarah. 

"Oliver’s legacy has been to create his army and what we want to do next is to encourage people to remember The Calvert Trust in their wills. 

"That way, we can help other families create memories thanks to other legacies. We want more people to benefit from this incredibly special place."

Find out more: Calvert Trust

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