I'd just completed a course in teaching adults, and we were advised to get some hands-on experience. Share were advertising for a creative writing volunteer, and when I looked at the community's website, I found it really welcoming and warm. So I arranged to visit.
The moment I stepped through the doors at Share, it was obvious this was a special place. Community members and staff were so friendly, and there was a real sense of purpose and togetherness. I sat in on a basic skills class, played a bit of a fun ball game called boccia, and chatted with Annie, the CEO, and Leanne, the volunteer coordinator. Everything about Share was great, I really wanted to be a part of it. There was only one barrier – me.
With no experience of working with people with learning disabilities, I lacked confidence. I was worried I might upset people, get things wrong, generally mess up. I think I imagined you had to have some secret set of special skills to be a volunteer. But I was so wrong! All you need is to be yourself and be engaged – everything else will follow. The community at Share is so open and full of diverse personalities and opinions that there is never a dull moment. Members and staff really care for and about each other, and every weekly creative writing class we do is inspiring, surprising and above all, fun.
In some ways it's been a steep learning curve – running a writing class where many participants don't read or write, and some don't speak, means we have all had to work out new ways to express ourselves. But when we all sit down together on a Tuesday, it's a real buzz wondering where our writing will take us. Into memories, dreams, comedy, role play, music, drama, love, anger and beyond. The class members lead the way, all my co-tutor Janice and I have to do is keep up! Every person has something unique to contribute.
Of the many things that keep me coming back to Share, this shared creative experience is high on the list. Volunteering together, Janice and I have forged a great bond and learn from and support each other. I also really value the support and time given by Leanne and the other staff at Share. There are regular volunteer meetings, any materials we need are provided, any questions answered. It's also great to get the option of undertaking some formal training, which deepens knowledge and understanding. And volunteers are invited to many wonderful events – garden party, awards presentation etc – that celebrate and promote the work of Share. Any small contribution we make definitely feels recognised and valued.
Through this role I have gained so much confidence in terms of leading a class, and coping with the unknown/unexpected. It has also enriched my own 'outside' working life as a writer and helps me keep a sense of perspective. In my opinion, to be successful and lasting, volunteering must be a two-way process. Whatever I give to Share, in time, preparation, energy, I get 10 times as much back. To anyone thinking about it, I'd say a big "Just do it!"