Despite having already worked for 45 weeks, I’m not at the end – not just yet.
Mencap are my 43rd charity of the year and what a way to start the round up of a mind-blowing journey.
I started my week very early on Monday morning, 4am in fact, heading to Birmingham airport (again) to fly to Belfast. Mencap is a national charity that looks after individuals with a learning disability. Mostly tendered contracts but have a campaign and policy arm – ensuring that these individuals are not only looked after and well represented, now and in the future.
After a pretty bumpy plane ride (and I’m not the best flyer in the world) I landed in Northern Ireland. It was actually my first time to Belfast and it was lovely to see such vibrant culture and history. The lovely Shiona who whisked me off to my first stop of the day greeted me at the airport.
When it comes to donating to a charity, the most common thing that I hear is that people want to see where their money is going. Of course, with some organisations that’s not always possible, you can’t physically show somebody a research or talk about that new vital printer you’ve just bought on Twitter. But, sometimes charities do things so amazing, so impactful and so tangible that all they want to do this shout form the rooftops.
The first part of my Mencap visit in Belfast was to show me just that, their new amazing project. Having worked out of an old Victorian building for many, many years; providing vital childcare for little ones with a learning disability, they realised they needed a space more fit for purpose. So a 6 year-long project started to get the funding for a new state of the art and purpose built building. Their hard work and efforts paid off and I got to see the shiny new million pound build for myself, months away from completion.
Not only has this building been specifically designed from the ground up to cater to the needs of its users, but it will stand as a very proud community hub for the local residents; giving them a safe haven to go to in time of need. With a day centre, meeting rooms, a counselling suite and even a physiotherapy wing; it has everything needed to cater to and grow with the local people of Belfast for many years to come.
But for me it was so great to see how Mencap are using their donated money to provide such wonderful state of the art facilities to a much needed area.
I spent Tuesday with a difference cause, Giving Tuesday – helping them promote their incredible campaign. Facilitated by the Charities Aid Foundation, Giving Tuesday aimed to get people across the UK to give their time, money and energy to worthy causes as an anecdote to all the money spent of Black Friday & Cyber Monday. I headed to London to join the Giving Tuesday bus and tour around London promoting and celebrating the wonderful day. I was also joined by some fabulous charities; Help for Heroes, Cancer Research UK, Centrepoint, GOSH and a few others.
But the highlight of the day for me was meeting Andrew. Andrew was voted as the Giving Tuesday ambassador (May I hasten to add that I voted for Andrew). Andrew has gone through an intense form of treatment for his Cancer and he is only 16 years old. But despite that he has raised over £100,000 for the children’s hospital that looked after him during his stay. An inspirational young man full of such hope and spirit; the embodiment of Giving Tuesday.
On Tuesday I also launched a campaign for UA ; in support of Giving Tuesday. We launched the ‘Switch & Give’ campaign, for every person that switched their energy on Tuesday 1st December, UA donated £5 between; The Donkey Sanctuary, Bliss, Guide Dogs for the Blind an Parkinson’s UK.
I resumed my week with Mencap on Wednesday in Leeds – at one of their many centres across the UK. I was lucky enough to be part of the award ceremony for the Young Ambassador program, where teenagers with a learning disability spend part of their year working in the local community on projects. Aimed to help build their skills, confidence and well being the grant funded project really does make a huge impact on their lives. For some, they hid themselves away in their rooms prior to the program, but graduating on Wednesday they had confidence and a sparkle. I even over heard one of the group saying “This program has changed my life, now I can go out and talk to people and have fun”.
For me, that’s the most rewarding of projects any charity can embark on. Gaining money to put together a program that directly changes peoples lives.
This was pretty much the narrative for the rest of the week. Mencap showed me a varied number of groups for individuals with a learning disability across London and made me understand how their work, on the ground, really helps support and develop people with a learning disability. Giving them the same opportunities as the rest of us.
It’s so important, especially in today’s economic and political times that we all do our bit to look out for each other, regardless of ability, creed, sexuality or hardship. Because at the end of the day we are all human beings; so I applaud Mencap for their dedicated work to making the lives of people living with a disability a great one.