I recently had an opportunity to visit the offices of Launchpad Reading to find out more about the work they do to help some of Reading’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged people to turn their lives around and fulfil their potential.
Volunteers are an integral part of the dedicated team of people helping Launchpad to achieve its mission. I spoke to two such volunteers, Pam Lear and Diane McDonnell, who work together to provide a sewing, knitting, crochet and textiles class for Launchpad’s clients.
How did you get involved in volunteering?
Pam – I was previously a support worker for Launchpad and I was approached by the Activities Organiser who said “can you sew?” and I said “a bit”, and so I’m still here two years later.
Diane – I used to teach special needs children and after retirement had originally planned to volunteer in schools. I did a lot of literacy work in senior school and saw kids coming up who couldn’t read. I thought I wouldn’t mind going into some nice little primary school and doing some reading, or maths as maths was my other subject. I mentioned it to my daughter who worked for Launchpad and she said well Launchpad need a numeracy teacher, so that’s how I started off.
I’ve now sidled over to doing sewing and needlecraft with Pam and I also help out with the art activities.
What does the volunteering involve?
Pam – Together we run the class for a group of around 6 people. They’re involved in their own projects, and then we have a group activity. We have a big load of fabric to use and they decide what they want to make and design it.
With the group projects, it’s about coming together for a group activity and being successful. We usually choose projects that we can do within a fortnight so that it is not a long project and they can go home with something that they have made.
“I love the expression on people’s faces when they’ve made something.”
Diane – On the art side of things, I help the teacher who comes in to work with the clients. I do the running around and sorting things out but also supporting the clients with their ideas. We are currently doing the wall outside and that’s brilliant, it’s their ideas and if you look at it it’s masses of different things; it’s not a piece of artwork, it’s lots of individual pieces going on out there. I just do what I can to support them to make sure their ideas are down in the way that they want them to be.
“It’s really about talking to them like you would anybody, it really is lovely as some of them are quite isolated and I don’t think they talk to anybody all week”
What difference do you make to those you are helping?
Pam – It’s about people that have been lonely, they’ve been on their own, meeting in a group, meeting other people who have been isolated, and getting some social skills. It’s a gathering of people working on a common task, so it gives them some time off from the other problems and worries because we’re now concentrating on sewing rabbits or whatever the current topic is.
For many of the people we work with, their lives have been kind of passive, it’s just sort of passing them by, so that there’s a transformation when you’ve got people joining the classes that Launchpad put on, they’ve suddenly made a decision that they’re going to move forward in their lives and I think that we catch them at the right moment when we’re doing it with Launchpad.
“I get a kick out of, you know, that magic moment when the light switches on and they decide that they’re going to be involved in this”
Diane – The activities are offered to people who are being supported by Launchpad; the logic is that a lot of the clients are stuck in a house. They have friends, but sometimes those friends are doing things that are not very helpful to their mission to turn their lives around. It’s an opportunity to just come in and chatter and talk, there isn’t any agenda at all.
Their confidence is very vulnerable, life has really walloped them by the time we start to work with them, and they can lose their confidence quite easily and that is why the crafts and the art do such a good job. They often think they are useless at art and I think they surprise themselves quite often. With the support of the art teacher, they develop their own style; you can see that by looking at the wall and how people have interpreted the task of painting it… I think that is a much gentler way to build their confidence.
“It’s just getting them to talk and relax…
I love that side of it”
What do you get out of it?
Pam – It’s a two way thing, the clients tell me all sorts of interesting things and I’m really fascinated because their world is different from mine, and they add a dimension by the fact they have been in different places and done different things.
Diane – On a practical level, it structures my week, because everyday could be Sunday, but I know if it’s Monday or Tuesday it is my Launchpad days. Having been a teacher I’m used to lots of stimulation. Working with children everyday is different, it can make you laugh one day and want to cry the next… I love the interaction with people… I think when you retire you could sit back and do the gardening and go on cruises and that but this is very rewarding, it gives me a lot really.
“Launchpad is a brilliant organisation and it’s full of young people which is really nice for someone of my age…”
They are lovely people to work for, you have a relationship; a professional relationship with them, so you have that professional input so your brain hasn’t gone to sponge cause you’re just doing the cleaning at home.
What would you say to someone who was thinking about volunteering?
Pam – I volunteered with a different organisation before doing this and it didn’t go the distance, so I re-examined things and I thought about what makes a good volunteer and I think it’s the matching.
It doesn’t need to be the exact match, I didn’t even know that I was going to like sewing, you can have a dabble at doing all sorts, I think, before you find your particular niche. I would say to anybody who’s doing volunteering if it doesn’t quite work out, go back and look for something else or go talk to somebody at RVA and have another go.
Diane – I wouldn’t want to persuade anyone to do any particular type of volunteering, I think it has to be what you want to do; you don’t want to be in a role that isn’t the one for you.
I would recommend RVA, because there are lots of things out there and it is a personal thing I think.