Paul's Story My Volunteering Experience
In 1992 I was studying to become a youth and community worker at Bradford and Ilkley community college. I needed to do a long-term placement and somebody recommended Bendrigg. At the time I didn’t realise how much my life would change as a result.
I was invited to do my placement there by Lynne Irish and I was welcomed into the team of people like Trevor, Geoff, Rex and the wonderful kitchen staff led by Linda. From the moment I walked through the door I was made to feel special and welcome, the place exudes energy and friendliness. I realised at this moment how steep my learning curve would be around the issue of working with disability. The reason I chose to go to Bendrigg was that I had heard that they were doing pioneering work using the outdoors with profoundly disabled people. I had done many pieces of voluntary work around disability but nothing was as exciting as this. I heard people in wheelchairs abseiled, went rock climbing outside, people went underground caving, Plus most importantly all guests learned the importance of teamwork and supporting each other to make this possible, I was intrigued by this idea so I knew that my three months there would be unbelievable, I was not disappointed.
During my time at Bendrigg I was trained in working with groups to really push the boundaries of what is possible we did all of the above plus much more. I was taught the moment a guest comes through the door they are the most important person and we have a very limited time to work with them to identify their potential this place gets them to believe that anything is possible. We did this by using the beautiful outdoor environment that surrounds Bendrigg. This has been a fundamental foundation stone I have carried forward in my work for over 24 years since my placement.
It is wonderful to see how the centre has developed since 1992 but what is interesting is how many loyal staff have stayed there to be part of this journey and that tells its own story. It is the staff, the environment, the philosophy of the work and the long term vision that believing in people with disability that makes this such a life changing place.
I met the person who was to become my future wife at Bendrigg in 1992, and she also felt the magic of this wonderful place. Our second home we named Bendrigg House and we have brought up two wonderful children who are just turning into amazing young adults. Our parenting was massively informed by lessons we learnt at the centre, and they have been brought up thinking of others, valuing difference and being strong young women who believe in inclusion and challenging injustice. My youngest daughter has just applied to do her Duke of Edinburgh Gold residential at the centre and this would be the best possible place for her to go, she is also aiming to be a sports teacher in special needs education.
Over the years, the area of disability has played a huge part in my career, and after 8 years working as a youth and community worker in Buckinghamshire I set up two companies teaching young people how to use film and media to give them a voice to be heard. One of the projects I’m most proud of was running an international leadership programme which brought teachers, youth workers, social workers and young professionals together to explore of disability and leadership. The results were amazing and can be seen in the following short film – once again a thanks to Bendrigg as I would ever of had the confidence to attempt something so big.
As well as disability featuring highly in the work that I do use of the outdoors has also featured highly. I have been working with the team on a project called Centres of Excellence which brings together outdoor education professionals to look at how we can share practice and enhance the work done using the outdoors. The project involved participants from Austria, Bulgaria, the UK and Finland. Again lessons learned at Bendrigg informed my delivery and thinking whilst I was running this program and again I was in a position to push using the outdoors and a platform for learning with people with differing needs.
It is sad that today in a supposedly enlightened society we are still having to fight for resources and challenging the cuts for young people and adults with disabilities and it makes the work that you do at your centre so much more important in not only providing amazing confidence building activities and initiatives with the clients but also for those supporting them. The ripple effect of your work has changed thousands of lives.
I want to wish you good luck and to let you know that I am one of ripples of your amazing work – thank you and good luck.