Happy Birthday — 10 Years of Web Design in Southport

How time flies when you’re having fun! And that’s exactly what it’s been — designing websites for lots of new and exciting people and businesses over the last decade that I’ve been based here in sunny Sefton.

I should mention, nice and early in this blog, that I’m not from here originally, but just down the road in sunny Stockport and that my journey here is a long and complicated one.

It all started way back in 2001 on a three-week holiday to Australia. During that trip my friend suggested we do a week-long surfing course which took us, on a bus full of young trendies, from Sydney to just south of Brisbane, camping overnight then travelling and surfing by day.

It was amazing and by the end of the week I was hooked. When I eventually got back to the UK I bought my own surfboard and every holiday after that was geared around surfing. All over the south west of England and south Wales plus four trips to Portugal where I surfed all around Portugal’s southern Atlantic coast.

By 2006 I was fairly confident but to be honest, still pretty crap at surfing. That’s when I contacted a good friend from America that I’d met during the Australian surf trip and stayed good friends with. She’s an amazing person — a fashion stylist and designer, TV personality and massive surf enthusiast from New York called Sarah Shirley. We decided to hook up for a trip to Costa Rica to catch some waves.

I flew to New York in September, lugged all my surf gear from the airport onto the subway to Sarah’s apartment in Manhattan and then spent a couple of days sight seeing around The Big Apple before we flew out of JFK, via Miami, and down to Liberia in Costa Rica. We picked up a hire car (4×4 jeep) and drove to a stunning hotel in the gorgeous tourist and surf spot of Tamarindo Bay.

Things were going well until on the second day after I’d caught a few waves and was tired, I took a tumble from my surf board and went head first — straight into the sea bed and broke a bone in my neck.

Except for the actual fall, I remember it all quite clearly including the impact and realising I was under water and going unconscious. The next thing I knew I was floating face down and unable to raise my head or turn over to breathe — I was drowning.

After a few seconds (I don’t know how long) I felt a pair of hands grab my around my chest and lift my face out of the water — I’d been rescued by a couple of locals that were swimming nearby and had been watching me surfing — they must have seen what happened.

They dragged me ashore and lay me down in the shallows where I realised I couldn’t move my legs. A crowd gathered and I asked them to get me out of the water where an American fireman, who was also on holiday in Tamarindo, did a quick examination and organised an ambulance.

I was taken to a local clinic where a medical person did a further examination and made some phone calls. Soon it got really serious as he said he couldn’t help me and started making plans for an airlift to CIMA hospital in San José — the best hospital in the country.

At this point I should mention that Sarah was by my side throughout — including the airlift. All we had with us were the clothes we’d been wearing to the beach and now we were being flown in a chartered twin-engine plane, about 200 miles, in the early evening, with me strapped to a stretcher.

I can’t possibly begin to express or wonder what Sarah must have felt during those few hours of the escalation of the seriousness or my accident but I’m eternally grateful because without her being there I don’t know what I would have done.

I had some CT scans and during that night I had an anterior cervical laminectomy — an operation to take a section of bone from my hip and use it, along with a titanium frame and plates, to stabilise the broken bone in my neck.

I spent the next 10 days recovering from surgery in a private room at CIMA with Sarah, my sister (Laura) and mum (Brenda) who flew out to help, by my bedside whilst they organised an air ambulance to take me back to the UK.

I can’t stress enough, just how important it is to get travel insurance when you go on holiday — I ran up a bill of about $200,000 for the surgery, the care in a private hospital and the Lear Jet (converted to an air ambulance) which flew me back to Manchester via the USA and Canada.

So, how did this all lead to me becoming a full-time web designer?

Ok, I’ll try to cut a long story short.

At the time of my accident in 2006 I worked for Sport Newspapers in Manchester, where I lived, as a page editor and designer on The Daily Sport newspaper. I also helped out with the company’s websites but as we all know, the internet has eroded newspaper sales over the years and The Sport was no exception.

Although I went back to work as a wheelchair user in 2008, after my accident and after a long process of rehab and getting myself driving again (with hand controls), the company went bust in 2011 making about 100+ talented newspaper staff redundant.

This was at the height of the fallout and recession following the 2008 credit crunch and jobs were scarce. I applied for a couple but didn’t get anywhere and so I decided to go self employed again. The first time I set up a business was in 1998 at the age of 24. It was pretty successful but ultimately failed so I took the money I had left, put the money into a house* and got a job (at the Daily Sport).

This has nothing to do with me becoming a web designer in 2011 but it’s what gave me the confidence to try self employment again.

Let’s go back in time again…

In 2008, shortly after returning to work after my accident, I took further time off to have surgery on my arm to restore some of the function that had been lost to the paralysis I suffered from the spinal cord injury in my neck. It was done at Southport Spinal Injuries Unit.

During my recovery I spent a lot of time being looked after by a nurse called Lucy and when I was discharged, we stayed friends and eventually became romantically involved and we’re still together 12 years later.

She lived in Southport and that’s what led to me selling my flat* and moving over here.

Starting Leeming Design in 2011

I’ve worked extremely hard and I’m very proud and grateful to have picked up some incredibly good clients over the 10 years since I set up Leeming Design, including becoming editor and designer of Manchester United’s disabled fans’ magazine, Rollin’ Reds. This has led to me interviewing some of the world’s most famous and talented footballers, (pictured below).

I also manage around 100 websites for approximately 70 customers, locally, nationally and even internationally including world audio technology leader and pioneer, iFi audio.

It’s been a wonderful 10 years and I’m very much looking forward to retiring the next 10 🙂


*I spent 10 months in hospital at Southport Spinal Injuries Unit after returning from Costa Rica, during which time my parents finished restoring the three story town house I had bought and was refurbishing. I sold it shortly after and bought a wheelchair accessible flat with a wetroom and adapted kitchen.