Each year at Live Group, employees can apply for three days of additional paid annual leave to volunteer for charities which support our company’s values.
Designer, Pippa Leicester, shares her experience volunteering with children’s charity the Newman Holiday Trust this summer.
It was around five years ago when I first volunteered with the Newman Holiday Trust, a charity which takes children with special needs on residential holidays.
Growing up, I spent a lot of time with a child with severe physical and learning disabilities who lived close by. I cam to understand some of the huge difficulties faced by families like hers and when a friend at university told me about the Newman Holiday Trust, I knew I wanted to get involved.
I enjoyed my first volunteering experience immensely, so when Live Group recently introduced a policy for staff to take additional leave to spend volunteering, I jumped at the opportunity to book something in. The Newman Holiday Trust was looking for volunteers to help with a London holiday for fifteen children and I was successfully selected again as a helper.
The children supported by the Newman Holiday Trust either require highly-skilled levels of care and/or live in financial circumstances which make it difficult to experience a family holiday. I spent most of my volunteering week partnered with Heather*, a cheeky, sparkling and sociable 15-year-old, with an infectious giggle. Heather was diagnosed with Rett syndrome when she was two years old. Since then, her development has gradually deteriorated and now, aged 15, she is non-verbal, virtually non-mobile, epileptic, and entirely dependent on others for her everyday needs.
Life for Heather and her family can be challenging. It was really rewarding for me to help provide a week of accessible, engaging and enjoyable activities for Hannah, surrounded by other young people and supported by one-to-one care which met her needs. We had a fun-filled week of activities including swimming, discos, a magic show, a falconry display, arts and crafts, sensory sessions, campfires and cosy film nights. We visited Legoland, Wellington Country Park and Camp Mohawk, which is a fabulous centre with outdoor and indoor facilities for children with special needs. It was refreshing to be able to take Heather to a space designed with accessibility in mind. We were able to push her wheelchair directly onto a swing with ease, as well as helping her access a swimming pool using a slope designed for wheelchairs. We even able to support Heather to use her wheelchair to get high up in the trees on climbing frames with her friends. The grin on her face was huge! To watch a video capturing memories from the ‘London 2022’ holiday, click here to visit the Newman Holiday Trust on YouTube.
Over the course of the week, Heather and I both formed close bonds with the other children and helpers. As well as physical disabilities, many of the children had different learning styles or came from deprived and unstable backgrounds, all of which affect the way they engage with the world around them.
In addition to the children having a great week, the volunteers also benefitted hugely from the experience. Personally, I gained a real insight into the difficulties of individuals with different needs and I realised just how inaccessible a lot of venues, public services, and society as a whole, can be. In particular, my experience with the Newman Holiday Trust made me question how as a society we so often are just catering for the average, yet this excludes such a large proportion of society. According to the World Health Organisation, currently 15% of the world’s population experience disability**. That’s over one billion people!
My week with the Newman Holiday Trust was heart-warming, inspiring and eye-opening. The charity’s moto is ‘The Newman Trust changes lives’. It may have sounded corny when I first read it but, after a week of working with the wonderful children and volunteers, hearing feedback from the families involved and being brought to tears more than once, I saw that the motto is true and I can’t wait to help again next year.
* “Heather’s” name has been changed to protect her privacy.
The Newman Holiday Trust is entirely volunteer led, with all funds raised going directly towards the children’s holidays. If you are even a tiny bit curious about getting involved as volunteer or in fundraising, find out more by clicking here to visit their website.