Friendship Club supports adults with learning disabilities to have the right to a normal social life in their community.
What was my life like before Friendship Club? Well, to start with, my life was not at all busy, like it is now. Let me tell you a run down of my old life.
Life was boring and unexciting once. I went to work, came home, watched TV and watched the world go by from my window. When I did venture out, I felt people stared at me and I didn’t like that.
Now I’m part of the Friendship Club all this has changed.
I found out about the club from a customer in the supermarket where I work, who saw I had a disability and thought I might like to join. I am very grateful to him still!
It was good to be in place where I felt welcome, included and part of the community. We don’t choose to go to village halls or isolated places, we always want to meet in places like pubs, cafes or bowling alleys – the places everyone else goes to. I like that, because it makes me feel like everyone else.
Friendship Club is led by the people who go to it - we all decide where we’re going to meet and what activities we want to do. The coordinators help us choose which places are welcoming, safe and not too expensive. But it’s really our choice and every 3 months we get a say in where we want to go next. It’s great because it really feels like it’s ‘our club’.
We take part in everything frompub to comedy nights, discos or ghost walks, to cocktail making in a café. As we use a lot of local pubs and cafes, they have got to know us and we feel safe in there. Some of the members even meet outside of Friendship Club times as we know the staff will look out for us.
As I kept going to the Friendship Club, I found my confidence growing and doors started to open. One day I was asked if I’d like to collect a cheque on behalf of the Friendship Club. I did this and had to say a few words, which I am good at.
Soon afterwards I got to join the volunteer team who help run the club. We have around 500 members in Dorset and speak up for everyone in our meetings. It’s a lot of fun, quite a bit of work, and a big responsibility.
The Friendship Club is run by members, who have the biggest say in how things are done. We pretty much run many of the events ourselves now.
Three years later I got asked if I’d like to be a trustee of the charity People First Dorset, which the Friendship Club is part of. I’m now co-chair of the trustees! I really enjoy this, especially knowing how we are doing as a charity.
Last year one of the members and I wrote some articles for the local paper, the Dorset Echo. We have now been invited to have a weekly column, starting soon. I have many ideas about what to write for the columns.
Through the club we have started to break down people’s negative views about people with a learning disability. Sometimes people see us all in a pub and have been afraid as they don’t know what to say. But then they realise we just want to be treated like everyone else – and are like everyone else!
I think the Friendship Club does a really good job in showing the public that we are all the same and that people with a learning disability have the right to enjoy the same kind of life as everyone else, like going to the pub or meeting friends.
The experience has been great for my family too. My mum doesn’t have to worry about me half as much now I have my own friends. She’s also made friends through the club and I think this is good for her too. Without the Friendship Club I’d be back at square one, where we are isolated and picked on.