I first met Ben in December 2015. I had been through a very difficult time in my life and starting to volunteer was the first step out of the tunnel for me.
The Mencap volunteering team gave me training and support, they got to know me and which person I would be best matched with. I completed my Safeguarding training, had a DBS check, and learned about Mencap's history, ethos and aims. Then I was introduced to Ben.
The first time, my manager accompanied me, and we had a brief introductory visit, then we arranged to meet independently. I was very nervous going out with Ben by myself for the first time, but it went smoothly. Ben is a keen photographer so I researched all sorts of places we could go, and he picked the Sea-Life Centre.
I learned so much on that trip! So many of my pre-conceptions were swept away, as I learned about Ben as a person rather than a “person with a learning disability” or “service user”.
I also learned that Ben doesn’t always want to do the new, exciting, and different things I had initially imagined he might like to do. Ben enjoys familiar things, and his routines are important to him. Although I suggest new ideas, if Ben wants to go to the same place each time we meet, that’s fine.
I now visit Ben every two months, which fits really well round my other commitments.
Ben’s a huge fan of Nottingham Forest, so when it was his 50th birthday last year, I asked Ben (and his team) if Ben would like to celebrate by going to the football. Ben’s brother said that might be too demanding, but suggested a stadium tour, which we did in October. Thanks to careful planning (route, parking, food etc!) Ben had an amazing day, and enjoyed spending his birthday money on souvenirs in the club shop.
Getting to know Ben has been a privilege and I really value the time I spend with him. Even better, I know Ben really enjoys our trips out, especially as many of his family are far away.
Volunteering with Mencap is so rewarding, I would recommend it to anyone.