Dawn has been volunteering at the Carers’ Centre for the last three years. Here’s her story:
My mum was ill from the age of 45 with early onset Dementia. There had probably been signs even before that. I was 17 at the time and my brothers and sisters were younger than me. I don’t even think the term “young carer” existed in those days, so it could be quite isolating. I’d have to give up things ordinary teenagers would take for granted, especially on a Friday night when I couldn’t go out with friends. Close friends knew but maybe I wasn’t always honest about what was going on. I wouldn’t say, “hey, the reason I’m not going out tonight is I’m looking after mum.”
Eventually, she went into a care home, but even then, there’s a struggle to give up a caring role. At first you look forward to the respite and not having the problems. But it’s also hard to relinquish things, when you’ve taken on such a protective role. So although my mum passed away ten years ago, caring’s been a big part of my life. It’s not to say you have to have caring experience to volunteer, but for me it’s definitely been a part of it.
And helping at the Carers’ Centre, you do use parts of your experience. Although you can’t generalise that everyone’s the same, you just appreciate that carers are here and it’s their precious time to have five minutes to themselves, get their thoughts together and get ready for the next day and challenge.
My volunteering started off gently with the gardening, which felt very easy to fit around my life. It was a nice introduction because I found my feet, got to meet people and it’s really welcoming here.
The first break activity I helped with was a pottery workshop with older carers. You have instructors, it’s not like you’re doing the workshop yourself and you get to engage with the carers that come. Sometimes you get to help and participate in a workshop, which has been an absolute joy and made volunteering far more rewarding for me.
I come from an art design background and what blows me away is their artistic skills. They’ll be the first to say “I don’t have an artistic bone in my body” but I’m ashamed to put my contribution on the table sometimes because they’ve really put their heart and soul into it. I think there’s a little bit of “you don’t always know what’s going to be happening next Wednesday”, so they really put in a lot of effort.
The satisfaction in volunteering is sometimes just the fact that you’ve done something. It’s lovely mixing with different people, so refreshing to hear about their lives and understand what they’re going through. Volunteering opens your eyes, in a nice way, it’s not at all miserable. We’ve had crochet nights and been giggling over the most ridiculous things. It’s easy to get caught up in your own self and that’s what I find so refreshing about helping out here. You meet some really lovely people. Volunteering’s also given me a lot of confidence to do other things. It’s easy to pigeon-hole yourself and I think it’s given me more people-facing skills. Meeting people, just taking time to talk. We live in a society where you don’t always know your neighbours and I suppose my motto is, if you’re fed up hearing yourself moaning, do something about it. That’s how you’re going to change the world.
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