Phil’s story

Phil Downs spent his childhood on the outskirts of Manchester and chose the Metropolitan Police as a career option, starting as a cadet at the age of 16 (in 1972). By the time he reached 18 he had a life changing injury when performing a somersault during the rehearsal of a display, a performance intended for The Queen.

Phil suffered an injury to his spinal cord and was instantly paralysed from the shoulders down. He was able to speak and breathe but something was clearly amiss because nothing else would move. Lying on the floor of the gymnasium he waited for the ambulance crew, was carried downstairs into the ambulance which took him to the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, Stanmore.

The emergency treatment was uncomfortable for anyone to experience but Phil’s main concern was not understanding how he could break his neck and still be alive! Prior to this injury he had always thought breaking your neck involved instant death!

Fast-forward 45 years and you have a situation whereby Phil works and pays a mortgage like anyone else, been married and got the T-shirt etc! Phil was lucky enough to get disability on the football agenda in the late 80’s at his favourite club, Manchester United and became their Disability Liaison Officer.

The connection with football earned Phil an MBE in 2004 for his ‘services to disabled people’ but during the process Phil really began to discover how difficult everyday life could be without good access… good access became a target for him to achieve!

Even now, Phil is in the process of negotiating with his MP to raise the issue of slow progress in terms of access and inclusion. Too few changes are evident despite the Disability Discrimination Act and the Equality Act. As he looks around he doesn’t see much looking back at him to say access has improved, not good enough for the 21st century in Phil’s opinion!

How Affinity Design was born

For too long Phil arranged his holidays and was disappointed in the accommodation. He hoped beyond hope that he would find something perfect for his level of disability but the world didn’t seem to cater for people with high dependency needs. Some would say ‘not much has changed’ and ‘so called’ accessible accommodation is still as rare as hen’s teeth! Phil thought the only way to change it was to try and start the process himself and decided to look for a place in Spain which didn’t involve a long flight, had level surroundings and have accommodation full of the type of equipment people with high dependencies need.

Initially Phil found it difficult to find the right property to adapt and decided to buy a plot of land to build his ideal option. For someone not normally known for taking risks, he decided to buy the land and start the build with a small amount of savings hoping that one of the Spanish banks would say ‘si’ to his request for a mortgage… it worked!

The result of the above is what Phil would describe as one of the best examples of accessible accommodation in Europe, however accessibility to Phil isn’t only about equipment; it is also about cost! As Phil rightly says ‘what’s the point in providing accessible accommodation if the price isn’t accessible too?’! At the moment the villa in Denia is building its profile around the equipment and the villa’s affordability that stands at less than half of the competitors. The difference between £1k for six people for a week in Denia compared to over £2k for a Villa in Spain, Portugal or France is substantial… and then you may still be stuck half-way up a mountain!

How Affinity has changed peoples holiday experiences

Some people ask ‘where does the word Affinity come from?’ Phil explains his disability and the fact he designed the villa shows the ‘affinity’ between him and his customers. This ‘affinity’ helped to produce a top-notch end product which meets the needs of those people with high dependency needs; people who had been forgotten for far too long.

Before building the Affinity villa it was a logistical nightmare for Phil to take a holiday anywhere. He had to take mountains of equipment with him, the size of which you can’t imagine…! Again, press ‘fast-forward’ to the Affinity villa being available for people to rent and it’s clear to see the task of getting to your holiday destination is made so much easier when the equipment you know you need is already in place.

Affinity Design Holidays has a number of regular customers. Their focus is on the convenience of having the equipment in situ, the immediate area being completely flat, the comfort of a private pool and the accessible beach just a quick stroll away. Turn left or right out of the villa and you have a choice of quite a number of bars and restaurants in what is a suburban residential setting, wonder into the middle of Denia and ‘the world is your oyster’… (it’s a fishing port!).

Affinity’s future plans

‘The world is your oyster’ puts in another appearance! The template Phil works to is one that can be replicated anywhere in the world but Phil wants to focus more on providing a second option in Spain.

The objective when building a second villa would be to build on the experience gained from the first and aim toward the main priority which is to provide something with a minimum of three bedrooms. Phil expects to be putting this idea to his bank and/or investors later in 2019/early 2020. To a large degree same template will be used but the bigger property will offer more opportunities to invest in more ideas and cater for larger families.

‘Rewind’ to today and you will find Phil thinking about adding a ‘changing table’ to the facilities in the bathroom. He is also in discussion with a company in Valencia who will soon be able to provide a small environmental control system for the immediate environment including adapting one of the windows to be operated electrically.

Continual development of ideas is how Phil sees his project. The numbers of disabled people grows and the complexity of disability is growing with it. This implies requests from customers for items specific to their particular needs which Phil acknowledges and searches for the solution. Wherever possible, what can be brought in, is!