In current society, there is so much pressure to find a job, make an income and pay the bills. There is increasing demand for people to find a suitable and financially sustainable job, which is very difficult to find. Volunteering can help people to find roles which they enjoy doing, gives them personal fulfilment and enables them to contribute to their community.
When I was preparing to graduate, I started seeing an advisor at IntoWork. The idea behind IntoWork is to help people with disabilities look at their skills and find suitable employment, as well as volunteering roles. From my own experience and from other’s I know accessing employment, even through IntoWork, can be highly challenging. I applied for both volunteering roles, and paid employment, and got a voluntary peer support role with Lothian Centre for Inclusive Living.
This was an excellent starting point, as I was able to use my experience as well as the models of disability, which was the framework for my dissertation. We had four very in-depth training sessions about how to give valuable advice and support to people who had a similar experience to us. There were also support groups and workshops, which were great to attend, to learn more about the organisation and get to know the people who use their services. The support groups are ongoing which is a refreshing way to be involved with LCIL. They also put on linked peer-support groups where a group of people spent a number of months looking at “becoming unstuck” which covered ways in which the system was fixed in a way which caused difficulties for people with disabilities, and to share ideas about techniques to approaching challenges in the system. This was a great way to get to know people and share our experiences with others.
After looking at a few other opportunities, IntoWork decided to close my case as they told me I was doing really well, however, I was only really doing a little bit of work with LCIL – which was great, but I still felt I had a lot to give. At one of the LCIL sessions, someone mentioned that Volunteer Edinburgh had a service where people could advertise what they had to offer, to a various number of organisations. I went into the drop-in and spoke to someone about advertising my experience, and created my own advert. I stated that I was one of the first people to take on a self-directed support budget, and I was hoping to help other people on their journey on accessing the support they need to achieve their goals. After a few weeks, I had around six different organisations contacting me, who had seen my advert and were keen for me to become involved with their organisation. I had to work out which organisations were worthwhile investing my time in. I had a meeting with the organisations and from there I started to volunteer with Children’s Inc., Crossing Countries, Beyond Boundaries and Edinburgh Voluntary Organisations’ Council. This was a great approach to volunteering as I felt reassured that these organisations were already keen to work with me, before they even knew who I was. This seemed to be a much more relaxed approach to entering the world of work, and even though it is classed as volunteering and not paid employment, it is a very effective way to find different opportunities. Having created the advert myself, I was stepping out and introducing myself to Edinburgh, by saying this is what I have to offer, and I want to make a difference.
The work I am involved in at Children’s Inc is around encouraging and giving advice to families who are trying to access services, but might struggle to have enough support to be able to get the right information to have positive outcomes for the child. There is a need for parents to be supported when they need it. There is an opportunity for families and organisations to meet and talk about different sources of a successful activity for a child either with disabilities, or support with looking into self-directed support etc. This is a vital source of information for families to have, as they may not know where to go to find that information. I also helped to organise an Easter event for children and families. This event was great for families and service providers to come together and learn from different organisations. This was a huge success as around 30 children and their families attended. Here I shared my experience of the transition process through showing families the way in which using person centred planning was the key element for helping people through the process. By using person-centred plans people can map out their vision and work out what support they have. This useful tool to show parents and professionals can have conversations about the support their children have and can receive.
I love the rewarding feeling I get when I volunteer. There is something special about using your own experiences to try to help other people, which should not be down to paid professionals. Being a volunteer can teach you a vast amount of skills about how organisations work. There are hundreds of volunteering opportunities within Edinburgh, which people can apply to. This ranges from working in a charity shop to supporting someone to live an independent and fulfilling life. Volunteering enables people to use their skills effectively to help other people achieve some kind of work. I think there is a certain amount of stigma around volunteering, especially around people with disabilities, however, it is a good way to get involved in organisations and it could lead to employment.
More about Ashleigh
I grew up on a farm in Dumfries and Galloway with Mum, Dad and younger sister Helen. After leaving school in 2010, the pilot project for self-directed support was just starting. At this point, I was lead to believe that I was only entitled to critical need. This meant I could not attend college, or live my life the way I wanted. I was part of a self-advocate group where I found out about self-directed support and met Joe Gough from the Council who was my guide through the whole process of employing a P.A to accompany me to my local college. This worked out really well, and I used an agency for social hours. After two years studying higher care, sociology and psychology at my local college I wanted to further my education so I applied for an HNC in social sciences, and then onto university.
I studied Psychology and Sociology at Queen Margaret University, which helped me develop a passion for understanding people and the way society influences them. I really enjoyed university, from studying interesting parts of social interaction to being involved in very exciting missions weeks with the Christian Union. Within my degree, I focused on disability issues within my studies. This included European Social Policy where I examined self-directed support in both Scotland and England, and my dissertation was around students with disabilities and their experience of university. These topics are very close to my heart as without self-directed support I would not be able to attend university.
Ashleigh volunteers with EVOC one day a week and has been working with our team to assess how effectively Self-Directed Support is being delivered in Edinburgh.
You can find out more about volunteering by visiting www.volunteeredinburgh.org.uk