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24 September 2014
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rachel teaching.
Rachel Lake helps pupils with reading skills at Knowland Grove First School

This is the first in a series of articles on BBC Norfolk Online exploring the role of disabled people within the voluntary sector. In particular, the gains for disabled people from volunteering will be examined.

A road accident in 1992 left 24-year-old Rachel Lake with brain damage.

"I had to re-learn absolutely everything - moving, thinking," she said.

Rachel, who lives in Norwich, attended the Oliver Zangwell rehabilitation centre for people with neuro-psychological injuries in Ely, Cambs. As part of her rehabilitation she was given the goal of finding paid or unpaid work.

When she approached Norwich and Norfolk Voluntary Service she was offered a placement at the Vauxhall Centre in Norwich. At this Social Services day centre for people with physical and sensory disabilities, Rachel helped with art and craft activities.

In July 1999 NVS found Rachel another placement at Knowland Grove First School in Norwich. There she reads with the children, guiding them with spelling and helping the class teacher.

Building confidence

rachel portrait.
Rachel had to re-learn basic skills after the accident

The placement has helped to build up Rachel's confidence. "When I'm working with somebody of a lower ability and then they can understand the work, that is really, really rewarding," she said.

It has allowed her to deal with issues surrounding her disability: "I think it has put it behind me a bit. It's not so much of a factor that's in the front of my mind now."

Since September she has also been a student at Wensum Lodge adult education college, studying an access to art course which she hopes will win her a place to do a foundation course in art at Norwich School of Art and Design.

Rachel finds that her combined interests in work and study make her more confident about meeting new people.

"When I meet somebody for the first time now, they say 'what do you do?' and I say 'I work in a school and I'm also a student at Wensum Lodge' I don't have to say that I'm disabled and I don't do anything."

Voluntary work also helps to build skills and confidence which are invaluable for the world of paid work: "
I believe it's helped me get into the role of work, which I've never ever done before. I've never ever worked. It's also helped me with dealing with people."

Rachel speaks very highly of Norfolk and Norwich Voluntary Service: "It's very helpful and has certainly helped me."

Disabled volunteers

rachel reading.
Rachel hopes to attend art college later this year

Disabled people are amongst those who NVS is trying to encourage into volunteering and they have just been awarded extra cash by the European Social Fund for this purpose. Meaning that people with disabilities, like Rachel, can look forward to better opportunities and improved support as volunteers.

Only limited statistics are available on the number of disabled people who do volunteer. A Voldata survey by NVS in 1999 recorded more than 1200 people involved in voluntary work in Norfolk, but the survey only had a 23% response rate so the actual rate will be much higher.

The European Social Fund money amounts to £544,000 which will be matched by contributions from Norfolk Social Services and Norfolk and Waveney TEC: "This funding will provide a real 'behind the scenes' boost to the voluntary sector in Norfolk, it will, we hope, particularly benefit smaller voluntary and community groups," says NVS director Ann Polley.

Link to Norwich and Norfolk Voluntary Services

nvs logo.


See also:
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Mind Body Soul

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