In the latest instalment in a monthly series showing how Durham is Powered by People, PETER BARRON meets a man who has refused to allow his life-long disability get in the way of his sporting achievements

WHEN asked about disability, Iain Nairn adopts a typically straight-forward stance and takes the question full on: “It can limit what you do – but only as far as you allow it to,” he says without a hint of hesitation.

And, Iain should know because he has stubbornly refused to allow his own disability to limit his inspirational achievements as a sportsman. Throughout his life, boundaries were simply there to be overcome.

Having had his right leg amputated as a baby, Iain defied the odds to become captain of the England Physical Disabilty cricket team and lead his country to World Cup glory. Not bad for a County Durham lad who’s lost count of the number of prosthetic limbs he’s gone through in his life.

“I’ve still got my first one at home – it was pink and plastic with a carved wooden foot,” he smiles. “My mum kept it as a memento.”

The technology available on the NHS has changed a lot since then, of course, and there’s no sign of Iain’s disability as he walks into the room at the Durham offices of Baldwins, one of the UK’s fastest-growing accountancy firms, where he has just been made a partner.

“It’s amazing the progress that’s been made with prosthetics – it’s a different world,” says Iain, who was 16 months old when the decision was taken to amputate his leg due to a birth deformity.

He was born at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead but Chester-le-Street – a town that has realised its own cricketing dreams – has always been his home.

“It was all a blur and I don’t remember being aware of having a prosthetic leg until I was seven or eight,” he recalls. “My parents were the type of people who just said ‘get on with it’ so that’s what I did.”

His dad, David, who is also a partner at Baldwins, was a first-team cricketer for Chester-le-Street, playing alongside Pakistani test star Wasim Raja, who signed Iain’s plaster cast when he was a baby.

“I’ve still got it – that’s another memento – and cricket was always going to be part of my life,” he says. “As a 10-year-old, I remember watching Gooch and Atherton opening the batting for England and thinking that was what I wanted to do.”

Iain went to the Royal Grammar School, at Newcastle, and excelled in mainstream sport, playing cricket and squash at county level, and more than holding his own at rugby.

Remarkably, he didn’t play disabled cricket until he was 32. In March 2012, the first physically disabled cricket series was played between England and Pakistan, but Iain was on holiday when selection took place.

However, a Durham cricket coach called Ron Young put him forward for the next selection event and Iain played as a batsman in a 2014 series, again against Pakistan, which was played at the global cricket academy in Dubai. England lost but Iain had shown enough to be appointed captain of his country a year later, months ahead of the inaugural World Cup in Bangladesh.

As well as England, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, the tournament featured India and Afghanistan, proving to be a defining moment in the history of disability cricket. The Bangladesh Prime Minister attended the opening ceremony, and the country’s cricket captain, Mashrafe Mortaza, promoted the competition, attracting an audience of millions.

With England beating Pakistan in the 20-over final, Iain made history by captaining England to a World Cup triumph. “It was a dream come true” he says. “We’d won the game by the 19th over and, if a ball had come near me, I wouldn’t have seen it because of the tears.”

Having reached the pinnacle of his sporting career, Iain stepped down as England captain at the start of this year after being made a partner in Baldwins.

Now established as one of the top ten accountancy practices in the country, turning over £100m, with 2,500 staff in more than 100 offices, Baldwins  relocated to smart new offices at Durham’s Belmont Business Park last year and have already felt the benefits.  The Federation of Independent Retailers, which has recently relocated from London to an adjacent building at Belmont Business Park, bringing 20 new jobs, has become a new client of the firm.

With so much happening professionally, Iain, who is still only 39, realised it was time to focus on his accountancy career. “You get so many opportunities in life and it’s about deciding which ones to grab hold of,” he says.

No one can argue that Iain hasn’t grabbed his opportunities, and he is yet another personification of the “Powered by People” movement, which helps promote Durham as a great place to live, work and do business.

Naturally, he is especially proud of Durham’s emergence as a first-class cricket county, with The Riverside becoming a Test match venue. “I love the fact that the best cricketers in the world come to my place for a game!” he says.

Although he has retired from competitive cricket, he plans to continue to use his status in the game to promote the charitable work of the Lord’s Taverners and has just returned from a fund-raising trip to South Africa.

“Wherever I travel in the world, I tell them what a great place Durham is,” he says. “It has everything – a fabulous coast, incredible countryside, fresh air, the friendliest people you can find, and it is becoming more ambitious all the time. Why would I want to be anywhere else?” 

Who knows what the next 40 years have in store for Iain Nairn? Whatever it may be, there’s no question that he might consider the boundaries to be beyond him.

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