Robert has been attending Southwell for several years. Each week he meets up with Elizabeth, a retired Head Teacher and much-valued volunteer who supports him with literacy. He also participates in other Reach activities in Southwell and Newark.

Robert says:

“Elizabeth helps me have more confidence with reading.  We do talking, reading, spelling and writing. She helps me with hard words. It helps in everyday life. Improving my reading helps me to text people on the phone and to read menus in restaurants. My (TCP) staff help too, we look at hard words in the newspaper. Elizabeth helps me think about spelling – but no pressure, she is patient. She asks me what I’m doing this week and we talk about it.

I don’t want my mum worried about me bored in my flat. I go bowling on Friday with Reach Newark – I like to go and see friends and have fun. Trying out Men’s Group too – we went to Clumber. I like being out more, getting out of  Southwell! If I’ve got problems or feel under the weather I can speak to people at Reach. If there was no Reach I would be miserable!”

Elizabeth has been volunteering at Southwell for several years. Here she tells us how she got involved:

“My first direct contact with the charity was when I called in to offer to bake cakes for Tonya’s Challenge. I had read the appeal for cakes in the local press. On that first visit I was fortunate to meet Steve and chat with him about the work being done at the ‘Pod’. I explained to him that I was retired and quite busy but something was missing. I was looking for some voluntary work and wondered if there was anything I could contribute to this project.

Steve skilfully persuaded me to talk about my career in teaching and which aspects I had found most rewarding and enjoyable. For me, that had been teaching children to read and especially in a one-to-one situation with youngsters with learning problems.

In no time at all, Steve contacted me and invited me to meet a young man Robert who might benefit from working with me. The meeting was arranged and Robert subsequently agreed to ‘give me a go’ for a trial period. So we began to meet once a week for an hour. That was two years ago!

Robert and Steve confided that Robert would like to read menus. He enjoyed eating out with friends and with groups from the Pod but usually had to ask others to read the menu – so that is where we started.

As Robert got to know and trust me, I was able to build in other necessary aspects of literacy. Progress has been slow but steady – it is a long-term undertaking, but Robert is gaining in confidence and gaining useful skills. During our time together he works hard but we have fun and laugh quite a lot.

I have gained more than I ever expected. It is great to be a small cog in such a dynamic and valuable organisation. I feel I have made friends. The staff and volunteers in Reach are welcoming, lively, cheerful and dedicated. Slowly I recognised people whom I had med in entirely different groups – (Church, social events in my village, and at the Aquarobics class at the Leisure Centre!).

One of the most popular activities at Reach is cooking and recently Robert invited me to share a lunch which he was preparing with another volunteer. They fed eight of us and we enjoyed a delicious curry follow by Apple Crumble and Custard. Robert not only chose the menu and cooked the meal but competently hosted our get-together.

I hope that Robert is feeling that our association has been worthwhile. Personally I have widened my circle of friends and come to admire the good humour and determination of all the clients at Reach who endeavour to cope with and overcome their problems. I have probably learned more and benefitted from my involvement than has Robert.

The people at Reach under Steve’s guidance – make it a good place to be. It is one of the most positive places I know.”

Gary* is a young man in his 30s. He has significant memory and communication problems but, as an energetic and personable young man, has a lot to offer society. He can be vulnerable in certain social settings because he can appear ‘neuro-typical’ and has experienced harassment in the past. Gary was referred to our Mansfield service by his GP who was concerned about Gary’s smoking and other poor lifestyle choices.

Gary initially participated in two short-term projects focusing on health and lifestyle – Healthy Me and Adult Life.  He greatly enjoyed the combination of fun activities and informal learning delivered by our Development Manager, a qualified fitness tutor, and the Community Learning Disability Team nurse. He particularly took to trying new sports:

“I really liked the cricket! The course made me realise that healthy eating and sport impact your life”

Gary’s enjoyment of activities motivated him to engage fully in sessions around healthier lifestyle choices. A session on smoking had a profound impact and Gary decided to quit his 20-a-day habit. Our Development Manager signposted Gary to New Leaf sessions and helped him to set goals and motivation to stop smoking. Within a few weeks he was a non-smoker and was keen to support and encourage other clients to quit too. His increased knowledge of the risks associated with unhealthy lifestyle choices, gave Gary the impetus to carry on changing his habits by eating better and reducing his alcohol intake.

Gary has subsequently been supported by the Development Manager to participate in a forum that feeds back on health issues raised by adults with learning disabilities to the local Clinical Commissioning Group. He has also recently completed our Client Volunteering course and aims to volunteer at Reach Mansfield in the near future.

Gary’s new skills and self-confidence will provide a stronger foundation on which to build a better quality of life for himself. His experience reveals how Reach has the potential to the kind of meaningful support and intervention that has a far-reaching, long-term impact on quality of life.

*name changed to protect identity

Imogen volunteered at Southwell prior to going to university.

“Volunteering at Reach was so much fun and so special. From encouraging clients to get rowing at the gym, to singing duets and dancing (badly) at the Friday socials, I loved every minute of my time. I even learnt some new things like the art of Zumba! Reach is a very special charity, not just because of all it does but because of the amazing sense of community and friendship you feel as soon as you walk in the door. The amazing atmosphere made me look forward to every session. I’m at university now – but I’ll be back!”

Cathy and Steve are the parents of Jenny, a young woman with a learning disability. Cathy tells the story of how they came to Reach:

“Our daughter Jenny had been away at residential college for nearly two years and was returning to live full time at home with us again. Whilst we were delighted to have Jenny home, our spell of freedom was about to end! As her Mum, I had returned to work and as a couple, we had started to get a life again! How would we manage as parents of a delightful yet demanding daughter and keep some kind of quality of life for us? How would we occupy Jenny 24/7 and maintain some sanity? More importantly, how were we going to provide Jenny with the stimulating and social environment that she needed? Where would we find social interaction so important to Jenny and allow her to enjoy things other young adults take for granted? As parents faced with that situation, we were very fearful of what the future held for all of us.

We then began the task of visiting various organisations in the hope of finding something that could meet Jenny’s needs, and much to our relief we found it. Not only did it meet those needs, it surpassed them!

For Jenny it provided her with the opportunity for further development, stimulation, variety, social interaction and to a great extent, her own independent life. We had found what was then called the Southwell Care Project now known as Reach. Along with ourselves and Jenny’s social worker, they worked hard to come up with a care package that satisfied all parties.

Several months down the line, we can honestly say life is good for Jenny and for us. She leads a full and satisfying life, fully supported by Reach, accessing Reach services in Newark, the Flower Pod in Southwell, attending Women’s Group in Southwell and social evenings. The staff’s genuine enthusiasm to enrich the lives of adults with learning disabilities, along with the high standards of care has made a huge difference to our lives.

We have found the organisation at Reach to be supportive, understanding and flexible in accommodating our changing needs brought about due to changing work patterns. As a result we are both still able to work with the comfort of knowing that Jenny is being cared for and enjoying life to the full.”