My most important adventure! – Showing the ABILITY within the disABILITY!!

It’s Monday afternoon and I’m sitting at Carlisle train station with a Salted Caramel Latte and writing this blog waiting for my train.I’m off to Edinburgh today for the RI World Congress on Disability. Over 1,000 experts in Disability come together from all across the world with the aim of creating a more inclusive world  and accessible for all.  Over three days there are workshops, presentations, speeches, fringe events from across the looking at all aspects that relate to the lives of Disabled people. 

Day one focuses on Employment, Education and Skills which looks at how polices can be put into practice to allow people with disabilities to access education, employment and training. This is what The Usual Place does, I’m so looking forward to this day and to see what I can learn from other countries while at the same time spreading the word about The Usual Place.

The focus of day two looks at how it is best to support people with disabilities to live independently through policies and practical information. Also building on from the previous day with sessions on UK employment . Well this is what I do everyday, I adapt to what I do everyday to fit around my dyspraxia and I work to be able to do this. 

And day three looks at how we can take ideas from around the world to help us make the world more accessible and inclusive for everyone. Well in theory is the conclusion of the whole Congress and the ultimate aim to happen in this world.

Now my feelings are mixed, I’m excited but nervous too. It does help that Sue and Ged will be there too which gives me some comfort. 

Look out for blog updates throughout the week and when I come home plus my usual facebook and Twitter updates too!

Twitter -@XxAmyxPopxX

Volunteering – An amazing journey of discovery!

To make the end of Volnteers week I wrote this blog for Strong Young Minds, one of the websites I write my blogs for. So I thought I’d share it with you all. Please feel free to  ask me any questions 😊

I am writing this as Dumfries and Galloway’s Third Sector Young Volunteer and Volunteer of the Year which is so amazing and I still can’t quite believe it.  
But I will take you back to a shy, quiet, unconfident 12 year old Amy who didn’t know quite where she fitted in , in this world! At times didn’t even want to be here and frequently missed school and didn’t have that many friends.
It all changed one evening when my Dad took me to youth group where one of his friends was a youth worked at. From being there as young person I began volunteering at there youth groups for primary school pupils and also a project during the summer holiday.  

It was while I was there as young person I met Tracey who was a youth worker with the local councils Youth Issues Unit. I got involved in both local and national youth projects including YouthBank, Inspector8 and National Conversation and being part of our presentation to COSLA. I won the Ian McAlister bursary award, a local award for my commitment to the voluntary sector. I also won a Young Quality Scot Award for my involvement in our projects and as a peer mentor. By July 2010 I had done over 500 hours voluntary work from starting there in 2005.

In 2011 I attended an event for young disabled people locally to talk about what mattered to us, organised by DG Voice – the Voice of disabled people in my local area. I met Heather who was the Development manager and I was soon welcomed into the organisation and made a director in 2012. Through the years I have been involved in projects with employability, schools and even was a speaker at our conference on End of Life Matters. My main purpose of being a director was to make the organisation more youth friendly and get more young people involved. In fact my role this summer is to look at how we use social media and how we can use it to benefit us more

What you might not realise is that in these years I was volunteering I was also looking after my Dad who had cancer. From 2003 to his passing in 2010 he had three types of cancer and without his wife and my mum there I was the main carer. Volunteering was a way for me to escape from caring and too me but more importantly to find the person I should be. The evening of the presentation of my Ian McAlister bursary will always mean something very special to me as it was the last proper picture of me and my dad.

It was from the feedback of the Youth Matters conference that the foundations of Inspired Communities Enterprise Trust came from. The purpose of ICET is to give young people with additional support needs training and employment opportunities in hospitality and retail. U have been involved right from the start from us getting funding, learning from other cafes, finding the building, finding our builder, all the legal aspects, spreading the word around the community to finally getting the keys almost a year ago. I have been chair of board of directors for just over a year now, it’s a big learning opportunity for me and can be challenging but with my fellow directors and staff team supporting me I know I can do it. Through the wonderful Usual Place – the café where ICET is based – I’ve been able to meet MSPs, MPs, council leaders, professionals and even the First Minister.

Some would ask why I volunteer when I don’t get paid for it. But for me the benefits are more than that. It’s given me such a confidence boost and created so many amazing experiences. It’s made me proud to have dyspraxia and to show the world that just because I have a disability don’t ever underestimate me. I’ve met so many amazing people on this journey from all the youth workers, other young people, professionals and those at higher levels. I’ve truly been able to spread my wings and its influenced every part of my life. Volunteering has always been there for me through my darkest times of my life and has given me something to focus on.

It’s now 2016 and I’m 24 I have been volunteering for over 10 years now. I am confident in who I am. Looking forward to what the future will bring for my career with the knowledge that volunteering has made me stronger.

So if your thinking about volunteering….then DO it!

Being Chair of The Usual Place Board of Directors

I am in my second year as Chair of the Board of Directors of Inspired Communities Trust who are behind The Usual Place Cafe in Dumfries. We are an non for profit distributing social enterprise company. Our aim is too provide training and employment for young people with additional support needs. The board of directors govern the organisation but we are very involved as volunteers in the cafe.

However being chair means I never know what I’m going to be doing next so far I have 

  • Officially opened the building with a speech from the heart
  • Met with MSPs, MPs, Councillors and Council Leaders from Dumfries and Galloway and across Scotland 
  • Spoke to our stakeholders group
  • Spoke to all the visitors we have

No week is ever the same as being chair.

On Tuesday I had a very busy day. I started by helping one of our trainees through their REHIS food hygiene qualification which was enjoyable for me and teaching is a career I want to go into. Then along with Claire our volunteer lead I hosted a group from Finland who were here with a local organisation LEADER who were here to learn about how youth organisations in Dumfries and Galloway engage with our young people. I talked about the journey to get to where we are now and the reasons behind why the Usual Place was born. Then Claire talked about the work we do with our young people and how we work we our trainees. 

It’s always daunting for me to speak to groups that we have in the building but it’s also a pleasure to share our story with other groups. I somewhere in my mind have all the information about the Usual Place and it just comes too the front of my mind. It comes from the heart when I speak about The Usual Place,it’s where I feel at home and can truly be myself. 

In the evening I chaired the Team Meeting. The skill of chairing the meeting is still relatively new to me but I do enjoy the challenge of it. I have been told I’m very good at keeping it focused on what we need too discuss…maybe that’s because I didn’t want to miss my train or maybe it’s just my organisational skills. Next skill to move onto is taking notes of a meeting

I was back in at The Usual Place on Wednesday and as I was waiting for two very special visitors to arrive I started writing this blog.We have Kezia Dugdale, leader of Scottish Labour and Nicola Sturgeon leader of SNP visiting us. 

So the time came to meet Kezia and too say I was nervous was an understatement but as soon as she spoke to me I felt at ease. I introduced her to members of the team and then we went into one of the training rooms to have a conversation. Myself, Callum, Dean, William and Heather all talked about The Usual Place and what it meant to us. Kezia was really interested to listen to what we have achieved in our wonderful building and how we have achieved it. She was also interested in my personal story which too me is key as it showed she valued me being there. After the meeting it was photo opportunities , getting used too that now. Then the chat turned more informal during lunch and I hope to keep in touch with Kezia 

And breatheeeeee it’s time for lunch and relaxing before Nicola this afternoon 

First came in Joan McAlphine, a familiar face to the Usual Place. I then joined Joan outside with Callum, Amy D and Heather to welcome Nicola Sturgeon to our wonderful cafe. Although at the time didn’t realise the camera was filming for border news! So we started our visit with a guided tour of the building, including the stunning cafe space, kitchen, meeting rooms and our very fancy changing places toilet. I’ve been told that Nicola was totally engaged in what I was saying when I was doing my tour which is lovely to hear and very reassuring. As both me and Amy Duffy have met her we found it very easy to talk to her.  After tour it was photo time again! Amy had great fun showing Nicola the coffee machine, it was so lovely too see her smiling with so much joy and pride 🙂 We took the most of the sunny day too have pictures outside before saying goodbye with a hug.

So it’s not everyday that you meet two leaders of political parties but then again it’s not everyone that is chair of an organisation or is priveldged enough to be involved in such a wonderful place. 

I think over the last two days I have grown in a lot more confidence and have more belief in myself. These very influence people really do want too hear my story and the story of The Usual Place.

So I’m looking forward to whatever it brings next as Chair…..

I am also shortlisted for Young Volunteer Award  at the Third Sector local awards 🙂 🙂 

The Usual Place

The Usual Place is a cafe that is based in an old church in the town of Dumfries. But it’s no ordinary cafe, you see The Usual Place gives young people with additional support needs and disabilities the chance of training and work opportunities in hospitality.

It is run day to day by a team of amazing staff members along side our growing band of volunteers there to give our trainees the support and encouragement they need.

Over seeing this shall we say is the board of directors made up of staff, volunteers, representatives of other disabled people’s organisations and me! I was voted as chair at our AGM in January 2015.

I describe it as a place I feel at home, where I can be myself and no one ever questions why I do certain things or ask certain question , they just know it’s Amy! 

I am so very proud to be the Chair of this amazing cafe and I can’t wait to build on the memories of 2015 and make 2016 our year.

Thank You

Miss Amy V Wright, Chair of Board of Directors 

More posts about The Usual Place too follow