A determined South Tyneside drummer who beat the odds after battling back from a life-threatening brain injury is urging others to never let their disability defeat them.
Inspirational Paul Belk was given just a 2% chance of survival after falling into a coma when his drink was spiked in Thailand while he was travelling the world in 2005.
But after months in intensive care and years of painstaking rehabilitation, Paul has regained his independence, has a job and his own home - and is able to embrace his life-long love of music.
While he still requires the use of a wheelchair he has been told he can still win his next fight to walk again.
The 31-year-old, from Harton, South Shields, is spreading the message that disability need not be a barrier to living life to the full as he prepares to take to the stage at a music festival inspired by his own triumph against adversity.
Mr Belk, who received a Gazette Pride award after his remarkable recovery, set up the Chase Park Festival, in Chase Park, Whickham, back in 2011, with the annual spectacular swiftly becoming one of the most inclusive events in the country.
My idea was to have a festival more accessible to everyone and the calibre of bands we have had has been brilliant.Paul Belk
This year will be sharing the stage with stellar acts such as Reverend and the Makers and Barry Hyde of the Futureheads after his long-term partner Rachel Hambling went the extra mile to round up a band at short notice after playing pals were unable to take part.
Paul said: “It will be nerve-wracking as we have only had a couple of rehearsals together.
“I had been to Leeds a couple of times and one time due to the rain the experience was horrific and it was so difficult to get around.
“My idea was to make a festival more accessible to everyone and the calibre of bands we have had has been brilliant. I just started it out based on my own personal experiences and it has just gone on from there.
“I am still in a wheelchair pretty much all of the time but I have a standing frame and some parallel bars.
“I have been told with a lot of willpower I can eventually walk freely again and I have willpower in abundance.”
Paul’s festival dream has been made into a reality with the support of organiser Alistair McDonald.
The festival boasts sign language translators, disabled portaloos and full changing table/hoist facilities for disabled adults.
Paul has been provided steadfast support by partner Rachel Hambling, who herself had a dice with death in 2011 when blood clots formed in her lung.
She has since organised a string of charity events and used her organisational skills in her latest role of band manager.
Miss Hambling added; “This year marks a huge step in Pauls progress to get back into the music scene.
“He was well known for being an extremely talented drummer, now it’s time to remind everyone of that and also recognise that disability does not mean you have to stop believing in your dreams and give up on your talents.”
The festival runs from noon until 9pm on Saturday, with tickets available for £9.90 or at a discounted £8.80 for fire service, ambulance or armed forces representatives.
For more information, visit www.chaseparkfestival.co.uk/