Written by Atlanta Beaumont.

I first started volunteering at The Orpheus Centre six years ago, in 2012. I had suffered a bout of ill health and was semi-retired. I needed to find something where I could be useful but yet was not too physically taxing. A friend suggested that I would enjoy working at Orpheus.

I knew nothing about this student facility that taught through the performing arts, helping youngsters with differing disabilities to leave home, gain confidence, learn independence and find their own path in life. I had no idea, when I arrived, how I would be able to help. I was very fortunate to be in a place such as Orpheus where the staff are remarkably patient – with both students and volunteers!

I joined the learning team who were teaching independence skills – a range of useful topics such as meal planning and how to access travel timetables. At first, I was always rushing to help, often where the student could have done much of the task themselves, but gradually I learnt to take a back seat, find out what the students could do, and then encourage them to go even further. What a remarkable bunch they’ve proven to be.

The students have taught me so much. For example, I do have an artistic side – I can sing, paint and dance a little; the encouragement I’ve received from the students about joining in has been invaluable. Some of the students have helped me with IT. I’m not of the IT generation, and of course they are, so what a benefit that has proved to be. I’ve also learnt the signing alphabet in order to communicate better, and some word signs for “please”, “thank you” and “toilet”!

But the best thing of all? Orpheus: the students, the staff and the volunteers, have taught me that everyone is useful, everyone can contribute something and to give things a try even when I think I can’t or I’ll be no good. So instead of success or failure I now judge things differently – did I succeed or did I learn? And often it is the learning that is the more life enhancing and profound. Thank you, Orpheus!