A FORMER RAF nurse from Helensburgh who found herself paralysed after a training accident has spoken about the help she received from a charity set up to support serving and former Air Force personnel.

Joanna Martin found herself paralysed from the chest down and reliant on a wheelchair after she fell 20 feet from a cargo net while training 17 years ago.

The RAF's Benevolent Fund, which provides support to serving and veteran RAF personnel, helped adapt Joanna’s home to be wheelchair accessible by transforming her bathroom to a wet room, lowering the kitchen surfaces, and adding ramps to make the home suitable for her wheelchair.

Joanna says the charity's support transformed her life after the accident.

In a bid to let other veterans know about the help they could be entitled to, Joanna became an ambassador for the fund and is campaigning for them during Disability Pride Month, which runs throughout July.

She said: “I had an accident when I was serving with the RAF which left me paralysed from the chest down.

“I’m a full time wheelchair user now and the property I had wasn’t suitable to go back to.

"I managed to find a bungalow in Helensburgh and the RAF Benevolent Fund supported me by adapting the house that I’d managed to find.

“They put in a wet room for me so that I could shower, and put in a kitchen with lowered surfaces so that I could cook, and put ramps outside.

“They made the house wheelchair-friendly so that I could live independently and wouldn’t need care and support.

“They help anybody who’s served in the RAF, even if it’s just for a day.

“As an ambassador for the fund now, part of my role is trying to raise awareness of the charity and get help to people out there that don’t realise that they’re entitled to it.

“The RAF Benevolent Fund has built me more than just a home – the charity has changed my life.”

Helensburgh Advertiser: Joanna campaigns for the fund as one of their ambassadorsJoanna campaigns for the fund as one of their ambassadors (Image: Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund)

The charity supplies a range of services, from mobility aids to counselling whilst also giving out grants.

The fund is available to anyone who has served in the RAF for any length of time as well as their families.

Help from the fund can come in different forms depending on individual needs as people can receive anything from monthly payments to one off payments.

While some people who are eligible for help are contacted directly by the RAF, serving personnel and veterans can also apply themselves.

Joanna, a keen sportswoman, was chosen to take part in the Queen's Baton Relay ahead of the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, carring the baton past Inveraray Jail in Argyll.

She also represented Great Britain in the Invictus Games in Florida in 2016, where she won a rowing silver medal and also took part in the shot-put and discus events as well as the event’s hand bike race. 

In 2019 she undertook a 400-mile ride from Helensburgh to Cheltenham, raising money for the Motor Neurone Disease Association, alongside her friends Cara Wilson and Lesley Serpell.

She was named on Cycling UK's list of 100 Women in Cycling in 2021 for her efforts promoting handcycling.

Joanna added: “I was quite blown away by the extent of how the fund would help because although I had heard of the RAF Benevolent Fund, I wasn’t quite aware of the scope of it.

“There’s a huge range of things they actually help with.

“My grant was a one-off, but doesn’t mean to say I can’t go back to the fund if, for example, I needed a wheelchair that I couldn’t afford, or some sporting equipment, or needed my wet room redone.”

To find out more about the RAF Benevolent Fund and apply for support, visit: www.rafbf.org.