Volunteers Week 2021: Owen Thomas on adapting his volunteering style during lockdown

Exploring in nature to befriending the elderly in his local community, volunteering opportunities has seen Owen Thomas helping others and raising awareness of disability.

During his time at college, Owen discovered Leonard Cheshire’s Can Do programme, which is a skills development programme for people with a disability or long term health condition. 

Given the opportunity to attend two placements at a nature area where Owen was responsible for cleaning up, gardening alongside having the chance to do some pond dipping, it was attending his local care home that spurred Owen on to his next volunteering initiative.

BEFRIENDING

Helping to garden at his local Leonard Cheshire home, Fryers House, and putting up Christmas decorations, Owen quickly fell in love with the care home and its residents. However, it was a step out of his comfort zone.

“This was completely different to what I am used to; I am used to working on computers, so this was all new to me,” explains Owen. “As I am used to working on computers I helped with the administration aspect, befriending some of the residents and it has boomed from there.”

Unfortunately, the pandemic forced Owen to have to rethink how he could volunteer at Fryers house. After just three months of volunteering at the care home, the first national lockdown was put in place and Owen had to work from home.

Thanks to his technical capabilities and interest in computers, Owen was able to take his in-person volunteering virtual.

Owen enthuses: “I have worked on the Can Do programme and worked with Leonard Cheshire to help create a new workbook.

“I helped to reach out to social media for PPE when we were all low at the height of the pandemic.”

The crowning moment for Owen was uniting with other volunteers to create a group on disability awareness.

VOICE TO ACCESS

Voice to Access is a disability focus group working to make the world we live in more accessible for the disabled community. With campaigns and initiatives looking at getting more disabled people into employment and challenging pavement parking, Voice to Access is a new venture for Owen to utilise the exceptional skills he has gained from volunteering.

Owen continues: “Volunteering has definitely helped with my confidence. Before volunteering I had no confidence, I couldn’t speak on the phone. The fact that I am running my own group – Voices for Access – is brilliant and has all come through volunteering.”

And Owen is committed to using his skills to challenge inaccessibility faced by the disabled community.

“When it comes to access, the access is not as good as it could be,” Owen emphasises. “For example, if you go into a disabled toilet, is it big enough? Can a wheelchair turn around in it? If cars are parked on the pavement that is stopping our independent because we can’t get onto do tasks ourselves. So, it is important to have these issues raised. 

“In my mind, people are still confused about different disabilities and what they can do. I think of myself as very independent. But I think that people assume that disabled people need help and are not independent.”

Eager to get back volunteering in Fryers House to interact with residents and play games, Owen is yet another example of the power of volunteering. 

Interviewed by the BBC to participating in Comic Relief, Owen enthuses that he has received so many opportunities from volunteering – what lies in store for you this Volunteers Week?

For more volunteering opportunities with Leonard Cheshire visit their website here