Construction work has officially begun at the site of the Matt Hampson Foundation’s £1 million rehabilitation centre for people seriously injured while playing sport.
Contractors began building a new access road to the site in Burrough-on-the-Hill, near Melton Mowbray, last week.
Cold Overton resident Matt, who was paralysed from the neck down while training with the England Under-21 rugby team in 2005, was joined by a large group of guests who gathered on Wednesday to see work get under way.
The centre, which is likely to open its doors next summer, will allow people supported by the foundation to receive physiotherapy, enjoy social interaction with others, and inspire each other to move on with their lives.
Matt said seeing the diggers in action was an emotional moment for him.
He said: “The reality has only just sunk in, seeing the work going on today.
“I’m absolutely delighted we are getting up and running with the project.
“It’s been a dream of mine – and the foundation – for years and it has a taken a lot of work to get to this stage.
“But seeing workmen on site and getting on with the job is brilliant.”
The centre is to be built on the site of a former aircraft hanger not far away from the foundation’s offices at Burrough Court.
The access road is being built by project partners Peter Bennie and Barton Plant to link the site with Twyford Road.
Joining foundation staff at the launch were representatives from building contractor Wilmott Dixon, Coporate Architecture, Derry Building Services and Salus Approved Inspectors.
Also in attendance were Matt Tait and Matt Smith – who both play for Matt Hampson’s former club Leicester Tigers.
Matt Tait, who played for England 38 times, said he was happy to offer his support to the project.
He said: “It’s an amazing project and I look forward to seeing the construction work progress.
“Matt Hampson is an inspirational person and I think what he is doing here to help people serious injured through sport is superb.”
Retired Tigers player Louis Deacon, who is now commercial director at the foundation, said the centre will help people from all over the UK and beyond.
He said: “I was five years into my playing career at the Tigers when Matt started training with the first team. I supported him during my testimonial year and when I retired from rugby I came to work for the foundation.
“It was a long-term dream of Matt’s to get a centre built and everyone is really happy to see it becoming a reality.
“It will be able to help a lot of people. There’s nothing else like it out there, aside from military facilities like Headley Court. It’s going to be an amazing asset.”
Roy Jackson, chairman of the Matt Hampson Trust, said Matt deserves a lot of credit for getting the project off the ground.
He said: “Matt is an incredible person who is absolutely committed to helping others injured through sport. This is his vision and it’s going to be superb.”