Pioneering polar adventurer and charity CEO of The Muscle Help Foundation charity to be awarded MBE for services to people with muscular dystrophy
Michael McGrath, CEO of the Muscle Help Foundation charity, to receive an MBE as King’s Birthday 2023 Honours List is published
Pioneering polar adventurer and Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Hampshire based The Muscle Help Foundation (MHF) charity, Michael McGrath, is to be awarded a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), for charitable services to People with Muscular Dystrophy (MD). The news has just been announced in the King’s Birthday 2023 Honours list – the first Honours List since the King’s Coronation. The Honours system celebrates the people who go above and beyond to change the world around them for the better and seeks to reward those doing vital and extraordinary work across the country.
The Muscle Help Foundation charity was founded 20 years ago – it delivers a unique ‘wish fulfilment’ model, tirelessly supporting the cherished dreams and aspirations of children and young people (8-28yrs) with MD and allied neuromuscular conditions and making those Muscle Dreams a reality; be that meeting a movie or sporting icon, experiencing flight or being out on the open water to driving around a racetrack in a sports car or learning a new skill. These transformational experiences are called ‘Muscle Dreams’ – they are the charity’s core and tangible fulfilment device delivering both immediate and long-term positive impacts to vulnerable beneficiaries and their families across the UK.
Michael says: “I am truly overwhelmed by this news. It was very unexpected. As a small, family-centred charity, my immediate thoughts go to our vulnerable Muscle Warrior community across the UK, a family within a family. In changing lives and giving hope, our Muscle Dream beneficiaries who are fighting every day of their lives, are supported and cared for by often exhausted mums, dads, brothers, sisters, carers and others – they are the fuel that drives me to keep pushing forwards. It is a privilege to witness the joy and impact of our work. I take enormous pride in what has been accomplished thus far by so many who have supported the journey, not least my family and an army of volunteers. I feel truly humbled in this moment, but the work and the need for our services continues. This is my life’s mission”.
TV Presenter, Lorraine Kelly CBE, a Patron of the charity, had this to say about Michael’s MBE: “Michael is a superhero! He’s done the most incredible things and changed the lives of so many children with muscular dystrophy through the charity’s Muscle Dreams. I’m so pleased he is being honoured as he really deserves to be recognised for his achievement.”
Michael’s journey started at 18 years old, when he was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy (MD). Following his diagnosis, he chose a life dedicated to inspiring and providing hope for others living with MD.
To raise awareness of MD, Michael led expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic in 2002 and 2004 respectively, making history by becoming the first disabled person in the world to have led expeditions to both the North and South Poles – these expeditions were the launchpad for the Muscle Help Foundation charity. He reached the 90 degrees South (Antarctica) in 2004, the same year in which Michael was recognised by the Queen for his ‘contribution to national life’ at Buckingham Palace – he was included in the 2004 Christmas Day broadcast to the nation by Her Majesty reinforcing diversity as a strength.
Commenting on this amazing feat, Alexandra Shackleton, one of Michael’s South Pole Expedition Patrons and the only granddaughter of Sir Ernest Shackleton said at the time: “Michael’s polar achievements are extraordinary triumphs of physical and mental endurance and should serve as a reminder to us all that, in his own words, ‘our limits are often far beyond where we may assume them to be.”
The Muscle Help Foundation, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year (2023), has a singular focus on delivering Muscle Dreams; these are life-changing interventions and/or moments in time for children and young people with MD and allied neuromuscular conditions. In doing so, the charity serves a very special purpose in the MD space. The whole ethos of the charity is rooted in the idea that brilliantly executed interventions can be transformational in not just fulfilling a young person’s dreams and aspirations, but also they can uplift, boost confidence, improve self-esteem, often giving much needed joy and hope.
As of June 2023, Michael and his wife, Sue, have hosted 478 of these Muscle Dreams, with the aim of ultimately delivering 657; one for every muscle in the human body. Past Muscle Dreams have included everything from the charity arranging for beneficiaries to meet Sir Lewis Hamilton, experiencing level flight, driving a high-powered sportscar around Silverstone, learning forest bushcraft skills with Ray Mears, to interviewing ‘the godfather of films’, movie legend, Al Pacino. The charity was also very proud to bring 75 vulnerable children, young people and their families together to attend the 2012 Paralympic Games through its compelling ‘Games Inspired Muscle Dreams Programme’.
An academic study that powerfully validates the charity’s impact was also carried out by the Centre of Health Services and Clinical Research at the University of Hertfordshire. Their rigorous analysis academically validates the charity’s impact in a way never seen before in the wish-fulfilment sector. The robust report found that the Muscle Help Foundation’s work has a lasting, transformative effect on young people and their families, giving them greater confidence and an invaluable sense of community and social connection.
During the pandemic, the charity pivoted its work to deliver group virtual interventions including virtual Muscle Dreams focusing on laughter, music, and comedy, as well as a wellbeing outreach programme. Individual unique virtual Muscle Dreams have included live chats with the England hockey team, while regular quizzes and Q&As with public figures through the charity’s ‘In Conversation With’ broadcasts, built a sense of connection and community during a period of significant worry and isolation.
In addition, recognising the challenges being faced by his beneficiary community during the lockdowns, Michael also asked MHF Patron, Lorraine Kelly CBE, to deliver a message of hope and support to those living with MD, who had been shielding during the pandemic. Miriam Margoyles OBE was also recently announced as a Patron of the charity, that also has British actor, film director and writer Sir Kenneth Branagh OBE who has been associated with the charity since 2003, also as a Patron, and who at that time delivered a heart-felt video endorsement of the charity’s work saying, ‘this is a small charity with a very very big heart’.
A long-standing advocate in promoting the D&I (diversity & inclusion) agenda, Michael has had several ‘thought leader’ pieces published in journals. He has also been named in the Power 100 publication on numerous occasions (2019, 2018, 2017 & 2016) as one of Britain’s most influential disabled people. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Arts (2018) by the University of Hertfordshire, in ‘recognition of his motivational and inspirational work for persons with a disability’. In his speech to graduates in 2018 at the Cathedral & Abbey Church of St Alban, he made a plea to graduates to “make the discovery of their own purpose a key priority” (https://bit.ly/3CqWrvw)
Michael was appointed in July 2019 to represent the Crown as a Deputy Lieutenant (DL) in Hertfordshire – a voluntary role, and in September 2019, he was invited to become a Fellow of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.
Michael is also a sought-after professional speaker delivering inspiring keynote talks to both private and public sector organisations. Over several years, his speaking services have been repeatedly engaged with by different NHS Trusts across the UK to inspire frontline workers and NHS leaders including talks both pre and during the Covid pandemic. Michael speaks at conferences, events and away days in addition to delivering bespoke workshops and masterclasses. Current prevalent keynote topics include – resilience, change, overcoming adversity, risk, teamwork and diversity (difference). He has also been invited to speak in both mainstream, special educational needs (SEN) schools and hospices, capturing hearts and minds, as well as broadening the horizons of children and young people.
About The Muscle Help Foundation
The Muscle Help Foundation (MHF) is a charity delivering highly personalised, transformational experiences in the UK for children and young adults (8-28yrs) with the muscle wasting condition, Muscular Dystrophy (MD).
The charity, now in its 20th year, organises and facilitates personalised events, experiences and activities, called ‘Muscle Dreams’, for young people with Muscular Dystrophy or related muscle-wasting conditions and their families.
Rooted in the idea that well executed, shared experiences can be powerfully transformative in nature, the charity has touched the lives of 1000’s of people across the UK, from families and local communities to schools and businesses – its impact and reach continues to grow.
Muscular dystrophy (MD) is a genetic condition that causes mutations in muscle fibres that progressively weaken the muscles. Over time, the decreasing muscle function results in an increasing level of disability. Some types of MD will eventually affect the ability to swallow, as well as weakening the heart and respiratory muscles.
These highly personalised, restorative experiences are uplifting, joyful and often cathartic in nature. A study by the University of Hertfordshire into the work of the Muscle Help Foundation specifically, found that increased confidence (70%), self-esteem (76%), starting new interests/hobbies (66%), feeling empowered to achieve life goals (73%) and developing new skills (61%) were the key impacts wish fulfilment experiences can provide to children and young adults living with life limiting conditions such as Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). This is the only known research in existence to robustly investigate and validate the transformational impacts that highly personalised dream fulfilment experiences can have.
For more information on the work of the charity, visit:
For more information about Michael McGrath’s speaking, visit: