TRIPLE Paralympic gold medallist Stephen Miller has started the countdown for the opening of the UK's first Academy for Disability Sports.

When it goes live in September, the Percy Hedley Academy for Disability Sport in Killingworth, North Tyneside, will be the first of its kind in the country.

The Percy Hedley Foundation is already the leading North-East provider of residential and day-care services for children and adults with complex disabilities.

But when the new academy opens its doors it will push Percy Hedley and the North-East to the forefront of sports for the disabled.

Fittingly it was Stephen who was invited to lay the foundation stone for the new academy in the presence of guest of honour, football legend Malcolm Macdonald.

Two years ago during the Foundation's 50th anniversary year, Stephen helped to launch the academy fund appeal.

Since then the Wooden Spoon Society, the charitable arm of British rugby, has raised £200,000 towards the costs of construction.

With additional help from Active England, Northern Rock Foundation, the Department for Education and Skills and many supporters, the £850,000 target was reached ahead of schedule and the countdown has started for a September opening.

Stephen explained: "Although I've achieved a lot in the sporting field, my road to success has been very difficult.

"Sadly this is due to the lack of facilities for disabled people not just in the North- East but all over the country."

Jim Ferris, chief executive of the Percy Hedley Foundation, said: "With the fantastic help of the Wooden Spoon Society and our many friends and supporters we will be able to realise our ambition for innovative sports and activities that everyone can take part in."