When I was younger, I did a fair amount of volunteering. My first volunteer project was between junior school and secondary school. The Prince's Trust had organised a summer landscaping project at Scolton Manor Country Park, where I spent a week helping build bridges, laying paths and making bird boxes for the conservation/nature reserve side of the park. It was a lot of fun!
During my sixth form years, I desperately wanted a weekend job to earn some extra pocket money. Unfortunately, everywhere I tried told me I didn't have enough experience. How are you meant to get experience when nobody gives you a job! The answer was of course to volunteer, so I did shifts in our local Cancer Research charity shop. I clocked up over 200 hours of service in the year or so I worked there, earning me a Millenium Volunteers award along the way. I had a lot of fun working there, as the other volunteers were all older women who were so entertaining to work alongside. Only the shop manager was a paid staff member. I really enjoyed doing the window displays, picking out clothes from the racks to create seasonal outfits that matched the colour scheme of that week's display.
Also while at school, I was introduced to another wonderful opportunity to volunteer. Treasure Trove was a charity set up to allow disabled youths between the ages of 16 and 25 to spend a week away from home, participating in a variety of normal activies; things like crafts, swimming, abseiling, trips to the theatre and so on. It gave their families and carers a break, and allowed them to feel like they were the same as everyone else. About half the people on the holiday were disabled; the rest, like me, were able-bodied, and while we were also there to have fun, we were also there to act as carers for our disabled companions. If you hadn't been before, everyone was a complete stranger, so you really did just have to get on with it, no time allowed for feeling weird about it. Within ten minutes of arriving and saying hello, you'd be off helping someone out of their wheelchair and on to the toilet!
We were of course supported by a team of qualified staff, including two trained nurses. But mostly they just sat back and let us all get on with it.
I went for three years, although I only seem to have photos from the first trip, in 2000. Each week was themed, and the theme of the week was Cowboys & Indians. The first activity was a group activity - we were split into teams and had to build a totem pole from random objects.
|Here is our totem pole. That's me on the left, in the checked shirt...|
Running through the week was a choice of activity you did every day; painting, something to do with marketing, and putting on a musical show. Every year I opted for the musical show. We had to write, direct, choreograph and perform a short musical play, which we performed on the final day, when everybody's parents came to collect them.
|Can you tell what the show was? No, probably not. That's me with|
the boxing gloves on, on the right.
The first year, our musical was a combination of The Wizard of Oz and the Eurovision Song Contest. Can you imagine? If I recall correctly, the basic premise was that Dorothy (played by a guy named Pete) and the rest of her gang were actually ABBA, trying to get to the Emerald City to see the Wizard (Terry Wogan) and win the Eurovision Song Contest. The good witch (played by a guy named Tom) was trying to help them, but the Wicked Witch of the West (played by my best mate Cath) was trying to stop them, with an evil plan involving sending Boyzone to defeat them. As you can see, I was in Boyzone. In the picture we are performing that song "When The Going Gets Tough". Now you understand the boxing gloves, I hope!
It was awesome. We sang lots of ABBA and Boyzone songs, and it was a real laugh. The cast were half able bodied and half disabled. Very inclusive, which I guess is the whole point of the thing.
Here we are on the deck of the Balmoral, on an afternoon sail along the Swansea Heritage Coast. After the captain came on the intercom announcing some kid's birthday (he was having a party in the indoor cabin area), we all sang happy birthday on deck, even though they couldn't hear us. Then some of the more mischievous lads in the group went to the captain to try and get him to announce something about us. In order to get it to work, they told them that we were on the boat celebrating my engagement to Tom, the lad sat next to me in the white shirt there. Talk about embarrassing!
|Here I am helping one of the guys into the pool. He is blind.|
At the end of the week, on the last night, they had a big fancy dress dinner. Most folks dressed up as cowboys, of course. I didn't. I went as an indian.
|I bought that top especially for this costume, but wore it for years afterwards.|
What was I thinking?
I have found one photo from the following year, when the theme was James Bond. Again, from the fancy dress night:
|I was going for Teri Hatcher in|
Tomorrow Never Dies
I'm not sure if the program is still running, certainly that website I've linked to is well out of date, and the current URL doesn't seem to work. It would be a shame if it's not still going on, because it was an incredible experience, for both the disabled and able-bodied alike. You made friends for life, if you were that way inclined.
I stopped going because I moved so far away, but my friend Cath kept going year after year, as she was a lot nearer. So I was very sad to hear recently that one of the girls I'd met at my first Treasure Trove week had passed away, complications from her disability I guess. I think we all take comfort in the fact that we all had a hand in making Treasure Trove such a great experience for her, and the others like her.
I don't seem to have the time to volunteer for stuff at the moment; hopefully when I am older and have time again I will be able to do some more giving back. It's definitely worth doing.