33-year-old Mel has been attending the Islington Me Time service since 2018. The sessions he has taken part in gave him the chance to express himself, leading to him grow in confidence and take on new opportunities and experiences.  

Mel initially took part in art sessions, giving his passion for drawing and sculpting an outlet, which included having some of his sculptures being shown at a public exhibition at Islington Arts Factory. But he’s also displayed talent as a gardener, impressing everyone by growing a banana plant in the heart of Holloway in North London!  

“At home I’d managed to grow two sunflowers and they were massive,” Mel explains. “And I managed to get a mango plant to grow last Summer because the weather was so hot. So I just thought, you know, maybe try something else, some other kind of tropical plant. Obviously it’s a lot colder here but I thought I’d take on the challenge. I spent some time online looking up different plants and I saw bananas and was like, “OK – I’ll give that a go!”

A man in a grey hat and black top in a polytunnel, surrounded by green plants

“Seeing it grow up like that makes me feel great. Makes me feel confident, that I can do these sort of things. I went to Kew Gardens and saw these big banana plants, like really big, with fruit growing, coming out of the top. So it’s a nice feeling knowing that I’ve been able to do something like that for myself. Hopefully one day I’ll get some fruit on my plant too.”

And an interest in gardening is something that runs in Mel’s family; he remembers his mother spending a lot of time in her garden as he was younger, growing other exotic plants like avocados. Unfortunately due to arthritis, she’s not able to spend the time tending to the plants as she once did, so Mel steps in to keep the garden looking good while also acting as a carer for her.

But despite that responsibility, Mel is determined to take every opportunity that comes his way, and has recently started volunteering at the British Museum after getting involved in a project to help make the museum experience more accessible for people with disabilities. 

“Basically it was all about ways of helping people see the exhibits in different ways, using different senses. So say for example one item might have a particular smell associated with it, so we use something that people can smell, like a substitute for the real thing. Or other things have been 3D printed, replicas of the object, so people can hold them and see what it feels like.” 

Having taken on so much since joining Me Time, Mel is clear about what the most important thing to him is about being there.

“For someone like me, who has autism , and has difficulty with getting outside and socialising, it gives you opportunities that you may not have had. It’s given me a chance to be myself more. To meet people. Express myself. I got into the volunteering at the museum through Mencap, and I wouldn’t have had that chance before.”

“I just want to do something, make something of myself. Without all this, I’d be lost to be honest. I just wouldn’t know what to do.”