Festival Hits Right Notes for Rehab Centre; When Injury Forced Judo Champ Boda Gallon to Retire Early from the Sport He Set out to Find a New Challenge. Now He's Found It by Providing a Vital Service Which Helps People Who Have Suffered Serious Brain Injuries Get Back into the Community. MIKE KELLY Spoke to Him

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THIS afternoon, 2,000 revellers or more will enjoy the Chase Park Music Festival.

It's in its second year and as good an example as you'll get as to how Boda Gallon operates.

The idea for it followed a discussion between Paul Belk, who is being treated at the Chase Park Rehabilitation Centre in Whickham, where Boda is boss, and one of the occupational therapists.

Chase Park supports people with acquired brain injury and complex neurological conditions. In 2005, Paul was on a backpacking holiday in Thailand when thieves spiked his drink in a bar in order to rob him of valuables. He fell into a coma for three months and the terrible incident left him paralysed and permanently brain damaged.

Paul was a music student before the trip and a drummer in a band. Between him and the occupational therapist they suggested a concert in the grounds. By chance, Boda had been in discussions about hosting a conference there.

"But that didn't really sit with our company's culture," said Boda, too polite to comment that conferences can be a bit dull. "I'd been thinking about how to raise this to the next level. I wanted to find something that would be interesting to the service users."

So he took a leap of faith and put money into the project. A plan was drawn up, sponsors were found and last year the first music festival was held.

"Because of the facilities, many mainstream outdoor music festivals can often be non-inclusive," said Boda.

"Although our festival will be organised and attended by many people with disabilities, it is based on the idea of a mainstream event that is open, accessible and enjoyed by everyone in the community."

This year the concert is even bigger and acts include The Lake Poets, Mausi, Hattie Murdoch, Jamiliah, The Soviets, Skylark Song and The Plimps while it has received the backing of Paul Smith, front man of North East band Maximo Park.

Its fellow organisers and backers are the Percy Hedley Foundation and Irwin Mitchell solicitors and it's set to be an annual event. The idea is as ingenious as it is simple. While raising the profile of the work done at the rehabilitation centre, patients have taken an active part in promoting and managing the event on the day, which benefits treatment.

Fliers for it were designed and printed by the Percy Hedley Foundation, a charity providing specialist services for disabled people in the North East.

The community is heavily involved, for example about 40 sixth form pupils from Whickham Comprehensive School have volunteered to act as stewards.

All in all, a win-win situation.

"One of the key things is the social involvement, which is often as important to the clients as the clinical nursing care," said Boda.

It's a challenge to break down the barriers and one thing Boda likes is a challenge. His dad, John Gallon, was a judo teacher and it was natural that his son took up the sport. It explains his unusual name, which in full is Boda Milan Gallon, Boda and Milan being the names of two judo experts from what was then Yugoslavia, who John met while living in Japan with his wife Ena. …


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