I started off at A Levels doing English courses and eventually ended up at university doing an English degree, but soon realised that writing was more of a hobby of mine than a career I wanted to pursue.
I ended a long term relationship at the age of 21 and found myself stuck with no hobbies or interests to fill my time, and I had no idea what I really wanted to do work-wise either so I worked in sales for a while as it was easy to get into at the time.
A good friend suggested I start volunteering somewhere to fill my time and I looked into volunteering with the homeless, the elderly, youth groups etc but eventually came across the website Do-it.org and there I found the details for Keynsham Mencap.
Now I’ll be honest, I’d never really met or came across anyone with a learning disability before this and out of pure ignorance I was slightly nervous to join, I didn’t want to say the wrong thing or make a fool of myself and offend anyone by doing something wrong or saying something patronising, but I met up with Laura who runs the charity and went through the checks etc and attended my first Thursday at 18+ Club in April 2013.
The activity this week was Movie Night and I was told to bring a onesie as it was pyjama themed! This was probably an ideal night to start as it meant I could walk around and scope out the club without being thrown in at the deep end, I chatted to a few members and other volunteers but being painfully shy myself I still was nervous to say something wrong but I knew I wanted to give it my best shot.
I kept returning and loving every week even more and my confidence within myself grew too, I remember doing Mini-Golf trips, Rock and Roll concerts and bowling trips plus loads of silly fun indoor base activities such as bingo, casino night, catwalk shows, magician nights and discos!
You soon realise that you just cannot be shy around these lovely people, they don’t care about your weight or your hair or whether you’re feeling shy, they will bring you out of your shell and make you enjoy the activities as much as they are!
Not one to do things by halves, I even threw myself right in and nominated myself to take the Midas minibus assessment which meant I could drive the 16-seater minibus for trips out and holidays, which I passed within 4 months of joining Mencap!
I then put my name down for the September holiday of the same year, a weeklong trip to Devon and if the deal wasn’t already sealed before this it absolutely was after, the clubs are truly amazing for meeting some beautiful people from all walks of life, but spending a whole week with them was a real eye opener and really made you see just how pure and happy and excited and loving and fun and lovely everyone is, it’s so refreshing when your pre-conceptions are blown right out the window.
The club members just wanted to have fun and enjoy life, and that’s exactly what we as the volunteers had to make happen! Imagine that, your main responsibility every week being to make a member laugh and enjoy themselves! It truly is amazing.
I met my then-boyfriend Mikey and told him about the club I volunteer at and he decided to tag along one week having only been together and few months at this point, and he’s never looked back! He’s fantastic with the members and they adore him, especially the wrestling and football fanatics among them!
Still working in my sales advisor role at the time and feeling the slog of the 9-5, Monday to Friday lifestyle, it dawned on me that I was counting down the days during the week until the 18+ Club on Thursdays, and asked myself “Why am I not doing this full time?!” so I went for it, I applied for a role as a support worker for adults with learning disabilities and mental health issues, having had no paid experience in the sector and just my Mencap experience, and almost 6 years later I am working full time in the health and social care sector and currently undertaking a Level 5 Diploma in Leadership and Management in Health and Social Care, and it feels so amazing to finally know what I want from a career and be working in a sector I feel so passionate and excited about, and without Keynsham Mencap I would’ve never discovered it or got this far!
Mikey and I are married now and we attend as many 18+ Clubs as we can, plus any day trips and holidays if we can make it! It’s a huge part of our lives and I hope it will be forever, we’ve made some lifelong friends from Club in both the volunteers and the members and we are so proud to be part of it!
If you maybe feel on the fence about joining the club, I URGE you to go for it, my life has completely changed since joining and yours could too!
If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Laura by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or phoning 01179 865659, or you can apply online by clicking the button below. We would love to hear from you!