Tell us a little about yourselves
Katy: I’m in my late forties and am a primary teacher, doing part-time cover/supply work and sports clubs. I have volunteered at Livability Netteswell, a residential home for adults with disabilities, for about a year, along with Chris.
Chris: Since retiring from a career in investment, I’ve tried a few hobbies but none of them gave me a real sense of fulfilment or purpose, something I think I still crave as I approach my fifties. And that’s exactly what I get from my time with the Netteswell residents.
How did you hear about Livability Netteswell?
C: I found Netteswell Rectory in an online search and it sounded exactly the type of place that I was looking to volunteer with, so I got in touch. I was so excited to get a reply from Theresa the manager, especially to hear that they were interested in us volunteering!
How often do you volunteer at Netteswell and what do you do there?
C: Our lives can still be very busy, as we have three children, but we treat our volunteering like a valve for our spare time: the more time we have free, the more we’ll volunteer. Livability is so flexible about our volunteering too, which we massively appreciate. We volunteer between one and four times a week, but a typical week is three times. It’s usually one evening, one afternoon, and on a Thursday, we take four residents to a local day centre.
K: My time with the residents is spent doing fabulously fun activities with them, including; art and crafts, baking, colouring, puzzles, working out at the gym, local workshops, panto, cinema, going out for coffee and cake and road trips locally. We also like to do one-off trips and took three residents up to Manchester to do the Coronation Street tour – they’re big fans. And I’ve been asked to do line dancing next month with those that attend the day centre.
Did either of you have any prior experience of disability?
K: Only when I completed work experience in a SEN primary school, as part of my degree course in the 1990s. I was apprehensive about volunteering at Netteswell – would we get on with the staff and residents, would they actually like us? As soon as we met the staff and residents, all those concerns rapidly disappeared. We were welcomed with open arms and were made to feel at ease instantly.
C: Since I was young, I have always stuck up for those that couldn’t do so for themselves. I was a little apprehensive as I wasn’t really sure how disabled the residents would be. I’ll never forget leaving my first session volunteering, I was beaming! It was exactly what I had been looking for.
What have you learned through volunteering?
C: Patience! I’d always worked in a high-pressure environment, where everything had to be done at a million miles an hour. Bizarrely, I’m not impatient in any way with the residents – my wife sometimes wonders if I’ve been possessed by someone else when volunteering!
K: Yes, I‘ve learnt to be more patient and understanding of myself and others. I’ve also discovered that it is very easy to have your confidence and self-esteem lifted when you are surrounded by people who genuinely value you and enjoy spending time with you. Ultimately, I have learnt to really enjoy and appreciate the simpler things in life.
What do you love about Netteswell?
K: Volunteering there has become incredibly special to me. I assumed that in my efforts, I would be giving something back to the community. What I didn’t account for was how the residents and staff have given back to me far more that I have given to them. I feel very much part of a large family and see the residents and staff as good friends and extended family. Whenever I volunteer, no matter whether I have had a bad day or not, I come away smiling and feeling all warm and fluffy inside. If only I could bottle and sell the positive and wonderful feeling you get from volunteering, I would be a very rich lady!
C: Same for me: a year into our volunteering journey, the residents (and staff) are like our extended family. It’s hard to put your finger on why visiting Netteswell makes me smile, but that’s exactly what it does!
Why do you give your time to this?
K: I feel that I’m in a place in my life where I have the time to and want to. It is something I share with my husband and we love the fact that it is a joint effort, we both reap the benefits and can share our experiences.
C: See above!
Tell us about something memorable
C: I think for both of us, our most cherished memory is of Keith, who very sadly passed away recently. The first time I met him, he invited me to his 80th birthday party (he was 78 at the time). In fact, I think he invited me every time I saw him for a least a month! Keith was such a lovely, polite, caring man.
K: Yes, Keith was a cheeky chappie and always made me laugh with his one-liners. He was obsessed with Man Utd and liked showing me his prized poster of them.
So you’d encourage others to give volunteering a try?
K: All I’d say is that if anyone is unsure about volunteering, they shouldn’t be. It is, by far, the best thing that they could ever do. My husband and I have certainly never looked back and are so thankful we took the plunge.
C: Volunteering at Netteswell has hugely changed my perception of those dealing with disabilities. Not just the residents at Netteswell, but the exposure to all the others we see at the local day centre. I now stop and chat to so many ‘different’ people in the street when we’re in the local town and see a familiar face.
Livability Netteswell in Essex is picturesque residential care home for adults with mild/moderate intellectual disabilities.