Swapping desks and laptops for mud and spades: two volunteering days for Scope

Tim and Aline both work for Virgin Media, one of Scope’s corporate partners. They spent a day out of the office volunteering at two of our schools, Meldreth Manor and Ingfield Manor. Here are their experiences. 

“All the team wants to go back.” Aline

I was fortunate enough to spend the day at Scope’s Meldreth Manor School grounds with four other colleagues.

Our mission for the day was to clear an area in the grounds and lay hardcore, ready for artificial grass for the sensory garden at a level wheelchairs can safely go over.

With the lovely support of John, the site manager, there we were! Armed with wheelbarrows, shovels and other gardening tools, we started by clearing the ground of dead leaves and branches.Four men standing in a garden with a wheelbarrow and shovels

Next we split into two teams, one would bring the hardcore and the other team would spread it evenly across the ground.

Half a day passed and we broke for lunch. We met John again who explained that there  is only a team of four responsible for the maintenance of the 22 acre site – that’s mind blowing! All the extra work that needs to be carried out is purely done by volunteers. The staff  have their hands full just with maintenance as it is, let alone having time for improvements. That gave us even more courage to continue and ensured we want to go back.

After lunch, John showed us around the school, through classrooms, sensory rooms,  and a kitchen where the children learn vital life skills. I was quite overwhelmed with the  different  kinds of accessible devices that were tailor-made for each person. It’s thanks to donations that Scope can source these custom-made devices so that the children can be more independent. And it’s up to us to give Scope the necessary resources so they can continue to do what they do best.

In the afternoon we continued with our labour, and at the end of the day we managed to spread six out of the 20 tonnes of hardcore.

All the team wants to go back and continue to support as best as we can this amazing charity.

I cannot give enough thanks to John and the lovely teachers that we meet that day, you are true inspirations!

“Wow! A day of coppicing!” Tim

I was one of four people who swapped our suits, laptops and mobile phones for wellies, gardening gloves and very different tools of the trade… bow saws, loppers, axes and billhooks!

Wow! A day of coppicing!

For us, this was a volunteering day to help the wonderful David on his vast project to transform the woodland at Ingfield Manor, an amazing school ran by Scope.A man using garden shears to cut some vegetation

Coppicing is an ancient form of woodland management, which still continues widely today.  Naturally wooded areas will continue to grow and if left untamed become deserts for wildlife and ecosystems.  Too much shade cuts off growth at ground level. Coppicing makes way for sunlight and then the dormant vegetation awakens.

David has divided his Woodland into six zones. We worked on zone two. He’s still got a long way to go. But you can already see the buds of wildflowers emerging and the insects that live off the moist ground. David told me he regularly finds micTwo men working in a garden to secure a net around the base of a treee and toads, which live off the insects they find.  And some relatively rare buzzards keep returning to catch their prey. I saw one overhead, an amazing sight with its wings spread in full.

Our coppicing focused mainly on hazel, with a little bit of ash too; making pea-sticks to sell in the local garden centre, and stakes and runners to build natural fences.  The clearing of the ground is also allowing David to gradually build a sensory experience for the children, helping them achieve in ways that were previously not open to them.

My colleague wrote: “For me it was an incredibly rewarding Four men in wellies sitting around an open fire, drinking cups of teaexperience meeting some of the children. Together with David’s insight into the woodland project and the school, children and staff it was a day I will never forget!”

I couldn’t have put it better myself. When was the last time you said the same about your day?

If you’d like to get involved with some volunteering for Scope, have a look at our current opportunities and get in touch! 

Lazy? No, just disabled… life with an invisible impairment – #100days100stories

Guest post by Carol, an administration manager from Leeds. Carol has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, an invisible impairment, and has shared her experiences as part of our 100 Days, 100 Stories campaign. Last year, she worked with us on a film raising awareness of the extra costs disabled people face.Head and shoulder shot of Carol dressed in black

I was once in a lift with a very, very senior manager at a company I used to work for. I was going up one floor, but I needed to take the lift because I struggle to manage the stairs.

I pushed the button, and he looked at me and said: “Only going one floor, are we? Aren’t we lazy?” I smiled and said: “No, just disabled.”

To be fair to him he was mortified, and it made me laugh more than anything else. And he was always extremely considerate of my needs after that. But it struck me that that’s exactly how the world often sees disability.

No middle ground

The assumption seems to be that either you’ve got a wheelchair, or have some other very obvious impairment, or you’re not disabled at all. There’s no middle ground.

It’s present even in the symbols we use. The universal symbol for disabled facilities is a person in a wheelchair, but that’s not necessarily what a disabled person looks like.

I have something called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome hypermobility type, which affects your connective tissues. Among other symptoms, it means your joints are very prone to injury. I have also had something called Perthes’ disease, which means I now have osteoarthritis and need a hip replacement.

I can’t walk very far, I can’t carry heavy things, I get tired very quickly and sometimes my joints partially dislocate.

Sometimes I limp, occasionally I have to use a walking stick, and often I’m wearing joint supports under my clothes, or taking a lot of painkillers. But often, you can’t tell that I am disabled.

People’s reactions

Because I don’t look particularly “disabled”, people are surprised that I need adaptations at home and at work, or that I might have extra requirements.

There have been lots of times where I’ve said something like, “Actually, can we get a taxi because I can’t walk that far?” and had blank looks back in return.

On a good day, I can walk about 160 paces without too much pain. That doesn’t get me even as far as the bus stop, so I’m completely dependent on my car.

I have a blue badge that allows me to park in disabled parking bays, which is an absolute lifesaver, but I’ve had some unpleasant run-ins with people who think I shouldn’t park there.

I get stared and sighed at when I’m climbing out of my car, as people realise I’m not elderly or in a wheelchair. People have literally run out of buildings to tell me to park elsewhere.

I know they’re trying to do the right thing, but it’s an awkward encounter that I could do without – especially since I often can’t get a disabled space because a non-disabled person has used it to pop to the cash machine!

Better support

Social faux pas aside, there are bigger problems with the way society tends to ignore invisible conditions. Because they aren’t there on the surface for everyone to see, it’s very hard to get the right support.

Often, I see doctors who have never heard of Ehlers-Danlos and ask me how to spell it, so it’s no surprise when NHS services struggle to help someone with my condition. I’m prescribed lots of  painkillers, but I can’t drive if I’ve taken them and if I can’t drive, I can’t do much.

I’ve had to change career, partly because my impairment was not supported by past employers. I’ve adapted my lifestyle, my hobbies and my expectations of life.

With a bit of consideration and help I’m capable of working, living independently and making a useful contribution to society – as are many, many people with invisible impairments. With just a bit of extra support and understanding our lives could be so much easier.

Find out more about 100 Days, 100 Stories, and read the rest of the stories so far.