Build your A Team
After Craig Pankhurst had a stroke, he saw the need to promote a greater positive outlook amongst survivors. Here, the successful former athlete and businessman discusses his new venture – A Stroke of Luck, a charity dedicated to post-stroke exercise-based recovery – and why survivors need their very own A Teams.
With a background as an elite international swimmer and successful business owner, it’s little surprise that Craig Pankhurst is pushing forward his latest venture with the drive and determination which have been the staples of his professional life so far.
But his latest venture is one with a difference – far from the high-pressured worlds of top-level sport and corporate demands, Craig is now creating significant momentum around a charity which seeks to support people in rebuilding their lives after a stroke.
A Stroke Of Luck – a name chosen to reflect the positivity with which Craig lives his life, and which punctuates the work of the charity – offers a range of exercise-based resources, direction and advice to people who have experienced stroke, empowering them to move on with their lives.
And as a fellow stroke survivor, Craig – who experienced his stroke in April 2018 – knows only too well how badly that is needed.
“I’m lucky that I have a positive outlook on life, and for me surviving a stroke was the biggest hurdle I had overcome, there was an element of luck in that,” he says.
“But as I looked at what was out there for survivors like myself and joined a number of online groups and communities, the overriding emotion was one of negativity, resignation, a victim mentality. That made me really sad.
“I thought that if I have been blessed with this positive mindset, then I can help other people get that too and show them there can be a positive future post-stroke – and that’s where A Stroke of Luck came from.
“Now, when people say ‘I’ve had a stroke, what’s next?’ I can say ‘We’re next’.”
Through an array of engaging content and innovative initiatives – from online exercise videos to Friday Live Q&A sessions with guests who have experience of stroke, either professionally or personally – A Stroke of Luck is supporting stroke survivors across the UK to move forward with a new-found confidence in themselves and their capability.
In another unique and inventive approach, survivors are also encouraged to build their ‘A Teams’ – the name inspired by the 1980s classic TV show – which brings together people whose different strengths and attributes can combine to give the support they need.
“Sport is my thing and I’m convinced people have a more positive and successful journey with the right people around them – and that’s the same in a survivor’s recovery,” says Craig.
“The survivor, as the captain of their A Team, has to play to the strengths of the team – whether that’s family, NHS, therapists, charities, whoever it is that surrounds that survivor, they need to make an assessment on when and how to bring the team members in.
“You don’t want to go to someone for an arm around the shoulder who you know is more of a practical person, or else they’ll end up frustrated at not being able to give what you need, and you’ll end up disappointed.
“If you think hard about who is around you and pick a team which has the attributes you can call upon, which you use at the right time for you, then like in sport, you can achieve much greater success.”
As a theme which runs throughout the charity’s approach, and even its branding, A Stroke of Luck makes use of a novel ‘traffic light’ principle, which enables survivors to articulate feelings or levels of ability, which may be constant, or else vary throughout each day.
“My daughters were only eight and 12 when I had my stroke and one of the main effects for me was the fatigue,” says Craig.
“Trying to explain neurofatigue was very difficult, so we used green, amber and red to help.
“When daddy is in the green zone, he can walk, talk and function pretty much as before. I’d start to fatigue throughout the day, so might then go into amber. But if I was in the red zone, and we were sitting in the living room chatting, cognitively I’d understand everything, but trying to verbalise that was impossible.
“So, by using the colour coding, that helped us all to understand the level I was capable of functioning at.
“It was something I used in business a lot – you’d have your green clients who you were certain of retaining their business, through to the red ones who you’d need to wrap your arms around – but it translated very well into our situation.”
During the pandemic, the exercise sessions offered by the charity really came to prominence among the stroke community, with A Stroke of Luck working alongside The Stroke Association to create a 12-week programme tailored by Neuro Physiotherapists, and again working to a traffic light principle.
For Craig, promoting the concept of exercise is hugely important, with his own experience being a case in point.
“When I had my stroke, I’d gone from being an elite athlete in my early to mid 20s, training every day and having less than six per cent body fat, to the ultimate sedentary male aged 39. I’d neglected my physical and mental health,” he says.
“While I was as relentless in business as I was in the swimming pool, the lifestyle I was leading, working ridiculous hours, couldn’t continue.
“My stroke was the best thing that happened to me, and although that might sound twee, it gave me the kick up the arse I needed.
“After my stroke, I realised the huge importance of exercise, not only for physical and mental health, but also for a positive mindset and outlook on life.
“We had a fantastic response to the exercise videos we created, which focused on a different body area on each of the 12 weeks, and again were accessible for everyone through the red, amber and green, which made them as available for those people who have limited movement as those who can exercise independently.
“We’re now seeking funding to build the next move of this content – there is an ongoing need and desire among stroke survivors for a resource like this, so the ambition is to do more.”
And alongside plans for more exercise videos – which, to date, have been viewed well over 20,000 times – Craig is also looking to develop the A Stroke of Luck website into a platform to connect survivors with the right therapists for them.
“I’d probably liken it to a dating site in some ways, on one side you have your survivors, then on the other the experts – it could be speech and language therapy, neurophysio, any service provider – and our platform can link the two,” says Craig.
“We understand that for many people in accessing these types of services, finance may be a barrier, so we are creating a system where we can give them digital credits to pay the therapists – which are based on means tests and a needs analysis – so if people don’t have enough cash, we’ll pay for it for them.
“Plans for this were well underway, but then the pandemic hit – but it’s something we will certainly pick back up.
“It’s so important that stroke survivors can access these services and we can support them not just to find the right provider for them, but also to finance it, if that’s what they need.”
To help raise funds for this initiative, and to sustain the wider work of the charity, A Stroke of Luck has launched its 99p A Month campaign. This campaign and the subsequent donations will be used to fund the development of more stroke-specific content which will support survivors in their life after stroke.
To donate 99p per month, visit the donation page here.