Week 20 - Fitzroy
It takes all kind of people to make this world the wonderful and vibrant place that it is, that, includes people with learning disabilities. I have long marvelled at my mother, a care home manager for adults with challenging behaviour, always wondering how she does such a tough job day after day and for such low pay.
I take my hat off to her. And to all the other support workers and care staff in the industry. As you've probably now guessed, Fitzroy, my charity this week, cater to people with learning disabilities. Mainly a government funded area but the charity exists to give the best level of care and support to people born with learning disabilities across the country. They operate across the UK in residential care home settings or individual living with supported staff. This said, they also do a lot of work with day centres and rural skills projects.
I had an activity-based week lined up with lots of different items on my agenda. I absolutely love it when a charity throws me in the deep end. When you only get 4-days to fully experience what that charity does I always find that being thrust into the middle of all the activity is the best way to experience what they do at their core.
My first day landed me in Maidenhead at one of Fitzroy's residential care homes which boasts an impressive set of individual flats all joined together by one central house. When I say flat I really do mean it, the rooms were massive. Each individual who lives there has their own bedroom, living room and kitchen with an impressive accessible bathroom catered specially to their needs. Now I don't know if you know this but this week is national volunteering week. It's a nation-wide campaign to get people out and volunteering across the UK. A fantastic opportunity for both individuals and corporates to do some more good in their local community.
Now, in the full spirit of national volunteer week I joined a 50 strong team of men and women from a company called Genband on Monday. They had sent this army of staff to do a '60-minute makeover' style transformation on the property, and boy, did they do some work.
I arrived to a flurry of activity that can only be described as a scene from the good old changing rooms; you know the one with that Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen guy. It was manic. There must have been 30 guys in the garden panting, weeding, planting and god knows what else. There were voices from every single room and the smell of paint was in abundance. It's things like this that put a smile on your face. If I am honest, I'm a total sucker for those programmes and always end up crying when the 'big reveal' happens. So to be part of something so similar was electric.
I was looked after by a lovely guy called Jim, one of the community fundraisers for Fitzroy, who I ended up staying with for the week. (Makes a change from single hotel living). We ended up driving round all day picking up bags of compost for the 3 new raised flowerbeds. Specially made for the individuals in wheelchairs so they can be easily accessed and maintained.
By the time we left, carpet was down, walls were vibrant colours and the garden, transformed. I heard that the guys living there went mad when they stepped through the doors to their newly renovated home. Wow, what an amazing way for a company to spend some of its resources. Instead of just chucking a load of money at the situation, Genband really went in and made a difference, one, I have no doubt will continue to resonate for years to come.
Well I can't say much for the weather situation on Tuesday, because it was abysmal. So waking up in Chichester to horrendous rain knowing that I would be outside all day at a rural skills project didn't exactly fill me with much hope for the guys. But, fear not, I put on my waterproof gear and headed over to the centre. To be honest my fears of the day being a wash out were swiftly washed away when I had a cup of tea in my hand at the quaint log house on site.
Once an overgrown woodland, the rural skills team have turned it into an oasis of potted plants and wishing wells; perfect for their service users to come, be who they want to be and learn some hands on practical skills whilst being outdoors.
With a large Polly tunnel at one end and a vegetable patch at the other, it was a small slice of horticulture heaven nestled into the Wethersfield woodlands. The adults I spent the day with were fantastic. They had the perfect mixture of excitement and innocence that made the day magical. We painted, potted, made, sang, danced and chatted all day; to be perfectly honest I didn't want to leave. I can totally see why these places exist and why it's so vital for fundraising.
In a world where so many people cast such quick judgements, having this haven gives them the freedom and space to be who they want to be, with no worries, no judgements. I left uplifted.
I'm not a dancer by any stretch of the imagination. I often marvel at the people on TV who can whip out a jive or break-down into breakdancing but me, not much hope. So when I was whisked off to a dance show rehearsal for the local groups annual dance show, I knew what was coming!
There is one thing you have to be when you do this job; adaptable. I get thrown into some pretty crazy situations and regardless of whatever they are, I give it a go. Because if I didn't; 1. I shouldn't be doing the job and 2. I would leave this year with a lot of regrets. So, putting my two left feet aside I ran into the hall and donned my top hat and learnt some dance moves. I must say it's nice to be able to say you go to work to have fun, and today was one of those days.
When you work with adults with learning disabilities you come to appreciate the smaller, simpler things in life. They see the world very differently to us and take such gratitude in the small nonsensical things that we tend to over-look. It's enlightening. I had such a wonderful time prancing around and making a complete fool of myself. But who cares? Nobody in that room did, that's for sure!
My afternoon then consisted of helping out the gardener, Alan, at one of Fitzroy's residential centres. I ruffed up my manly side and made 3 raised flower beds for the occupants of the home. It was pretty hard work to be honest but was nice to be out in the sun!
I ended my week with a bit of cricket at an indoor sports centre just outside Petersfield. There were 8 services users who go down once a week for a bit of a run around and workout. It was so wonderful to see them all having such fun. I even got stuck in myself.
It's a double-whammy for me as next week I am at the Apuldram centre, a stones throw away from where I was this week who are another learning disability centre. Let's hope the weather stays nice!