Way back in 2011 my friend Phil asked if I’d come along and volunteer at a charity weekend he was organising. His idea was that once work had finished for the day, we could have some beers and a catch up. So I agreed to come along, with all I knew about VICTA being that it was a charity that worked with visually impaired children and their families, and beyond that having no idea what to expect.
I arrived in Swindon on a rainy morning and got a taxi to an outdoor activity centre – this didn’t look like it was going to be fun. I met up with Phil, who showed me where the other volunteers were gathering before he ran off to run some errands. I got chatting with the other volunteers – some of them seemed confident – they knew what there were doing, others were like me and seemed more nervous. We were given a briefing and some quick guide training before the families started arriving and we helped them to their rooms. It all seemed odd and I had no idea how I was going to cope. After dinner we had our first session – an ice breaker where we met the kids in our groups for the first time, if I’m honest I was relieved to have a group of the brothers and sisters who didn’t have any sight issues. It was after the ice breaker finished that it all changed. Whilst waiting for Phil to finish getting everyone settled in I got invited to the onsite pub with a bunch of the other volunteers, and it was in this pub that everything changed. I got chatting to a group of Visually Impaired over 18s who were there for a young adult weekend running alongside the family weekend, and we just had an amazing time. My friends have never let me forget that I was beaten at pool by someone with no sight. I honestly can’t remember if Phil came to find me so that we could catch up, I was having too much fun meeting the people, looking past the whole sight thing, and most importantly of all making new friends. I’d see Phil at the occasional mealtime but we never got to have that catch up – he’d be busy and I’d be in the day with my group having a great time climbing, abseiling, raft building and zip lining, or in the evening off having fun with my new friends. By the end of the weekend I didn’t want to see it end, I was hooked, I’d made friends for life and I was signed up for the next year – and every year since.
Since that first experience of VICTA I’ve volunteered at every family weekend they’ve run, and have helped on confidence building trips taking small groups abroad to Sicily and a cruise around the Caribbean, getting to share some utterly unique experiences and exploring the world in a completely unique way! I’ve been able to help VICTA from home too, I’ve taken part in sponsored Boxing Day Sea Swims, worked to organise fundraising events and in 2012 to the surprise of everyone I know I ran the London Marathon to raise money for VICTA, and I’m always on the lookout for future fundraising opportunities.
I’m proud that I’m involved with the work that VICTA does, and the friends I have made have changed the way that I experience the world. It’s easy to get involved, and you’d be amazed at how much you get back. Hopefully see you at the next family weekend!