One thing I have always been passionate about my entire life is to be kind and to give back and help where you can.
Growing up I started as a Beaver, then went into Rainbows and Girlguiding all the way up to being a Ranger. I learnt a heck of a lot with Guides and met some amazing people too so one thing I wanted to do was give back, I tried to become a young leader/leader, but it just didn’t work so when a friend asked if I would be up for giving a Beavers meeting to help them get their Disability Awareness badge I jumped (not literally) at the chance.
The first thing I did was try to figure out what I was going to do and say, I didn’t want to just talk to them, I wanted to give them the opportunity to ask questions. I knew that visual things would go down well as it would keep them interested so I decided to take some of my medals and my Windermere Certificate with me. I then thought about what would be important to put across to them, not just about me but things that could help them and they could learn so I decided to do some very basic water safety with them so took my Swim Secure Tow Float with me. The final thing that I thought would be good was for them to play and experience a Paralympic sport.
There were many different Paralympic sports choose from but I needed to find something that could be done in a scout hut and that I would be able to make simple enough for them to understand it. I considered different things like Goalball and a version of seated Volley-ball but I had bad images of a ball going through a window. Eventually I did more research on Boccia, I have never played the sport but have watched it and decided that a basic version of it would work with the age group and the number of children I was likely to have. The only issue – I had no equipment. I contacted my friend from Living Sport, a local sport charity in Cambridgeshire to see if they could assist me in finding some equipment. They managed to find me 2 sets of Boccia balls and a very basic ramp that some players use. I did more research on the Boccia England website on any specific rules that I needed to know when leading the activity.
Despite being prepared I was nervous, the only other talk that I have given is at The Kendal Mountain Festival but this was TOTALLY different. I spent days trying to figure out what I was going to say and do but in the end just decided it would work best for me to go and blag it and see what happened. I am known for blagging it successfully and a lot of the time it works better than when I have planned something/am reading a script.
So, the day arrived. I had had a busy day, a river swim in the morning and a crafting class with Illuminate in the afternoon. This helped me to reduce the anxiety around giving the talk and helped distract me and stopped me panicking. I was picked up at 5.15 by the leader and driven to the meeting point of the 1st Somersham Beavers. In the car I was honest with the leader and said that I was going to be making it up as I go along because I wasn’t sure what the Beavers would enjoy most. We arrived at the hut and went in to find lots of little people playing and having fun. It reminded me of when I was a Guide and the start of our meetings where we got to catch up with friends and have fun. I began setting up, getting my medals out, my certificate out and blowing up my Swim Secure tow float.
The meeting then started with a young boy being Invested into the Beavers and I got to watch as he made his promise and then it was my turn.
The leaders got the kids sat on the floor around me and I introduced myself. I spoke to them about me having not always been in a wheelchair and explaining that just because I am in a wheelchair it doesn’t mean I can’t walk. I then went on to tell them about my swimming and my Lake Windermere Swim and they seemed fascinated with it and how far it was. I then asked them questions about what they thought my tow float might be for. I got some good responses and explained why it is so important to use when swimming outdoors. I then gave them the opportunity to ask any questions and got things from “what are the pink and purple spider webs on your wheelchair for?” (talking about the spokes on my wheels), “what other sports do you like?”, “do you have medals that aren’t for swimming?” and the oddest one “how do you get dressed?”
After a Q&A we set up ready to play Boccia, I split the group into 4 teams and put a row of chairs out at each end, I only gave very basic rules to them so that they easily understood. The 2 middle chairs were the ‘throwing’ chairs, one was the red team and one was for the blue team. The Beavers were only allowed to throw a ball when sitting in that chair and when they did throw it their bottoms had to be on the chair. I got one Beaver to throw the Jack (white ball) and told them the aim of the game was for them to get their ball the closest to the white one. I was a little concerned because I was worried that they wouldn’t enjoy the sport as it was so simple but I couldn’t have been more wrong! The Beavers loved it and got incredibly tactical and competitive. After they had got used to throwing the ball I decided to introduce the ramp and they tried to use that and work out the best way to use it. How high they should hold it to get the ball to go further or closer and amazingly one of the Beavers actually got their ball touching the Jack when using it! We got the teams to swap over half way through so they could play different teams and towards the end they started coming out with things like “if you hit that blue ball out the way then I can get my red ball closer”.
It was time to end the meeting. We put away all the chairs and ended the meeting where I was thanked for visiting and the Beavers were told what they would be doing the following week. I think that the most heart-warming and rewarding thing that was one of the highlights of going was one of the older Beavers coming to me once the meeting had finished and putting his hand out to shake my hand and thank me for going to talk to them and to say he had a great evening.
I think these sorts of experiences are important for children as society tends to see disability and being disabled as a problem and as something negative and to shy away from. It is shown as something that shouldn’t be spoken about, and I feel it can make children who have lots of questions afraid to ask those questions. I believe that if we want to change the stigma of living with a disability then the best way to do that is by encouraging people to talk about it, show that people that have a disability aren’t their disability, they are just ordinary people with ordinary problems. Show those with disability as just another person that sometimes has to do things a little bit differently.