This week Label spoke with the Project Leaders for the Open Door Project, Harley Caswell and Madeline Osmond:

Open Door is an Action project whereby volunteers visit a local MenCap home for adults with learning disabilities. Volunteers take part in various activities with the main aim of increasing social interaction for the residents and giving them the opportunity to socialise within the local community.

Open Door is an invaluable opportunity for the residents to socialise with new people and with each other. Often in day-to-day life the residents do not have the chance to meet new people and learn social skills, so this project is really beneficial to them. When volunteers go to the home they chat to the residents; play games; do arts & crafts; go on trips out. They also plan on taking the residents out to see a show and go for picnics in the park when the weather is nicer!

Open Door enables both residents and students to build genuine friendships which they wouldn’t have formed otherwise. The project really makes a difference to the community by providing opportunities for the residents to visit the local community and socialise with new people, but also provides students with the chance to learn more about learning disabilities and how to adapt their communication styles. Both residents and volunteers gain so much from this project; we would recommend anyone thinking about volunteering to contact either of us if they have an interest in helping others and making new friends!  – Open Door Project Leaders

How did you get involved with this project?

Harley: I started volunteering with Open Door in my second year because I want to work within mental health. People with learning disabilities are a unique group of people whom I have never had the opportunity to interact with before and after hearing about the project, I really wanted to help make a difference to their lives.

Madeleine: I worked for MenCap before I came to Loughborough but with children instead of adults. I found it really rewarding volunteering with people with learning disabilities and wanted to continue volunteering with people with learning disabilities when I came to University.

What is the most enjoyable aspect of Open Door?

The most enjoyable aspect for us is making the residents smile and laugh, knowing that you really have brightened their day! It’s really nice how the residents really look forward to seeing us – one of the residents even waits by the window for our arrival and always wants to know when we’re next coming back to visit! But we look forward to seeing them too, so it’s a really lovely genuine friendship that we have built with the residents!

What is the most challenging ot trying aspect of Open Door?

It can be hard at first some days because sometimes the residents are worn out or the staff inform us that someone is having a bit of an “off-day”. So that can make it hard to engage with the residents. However because of the relationship that we have built with the residents, we know how to interact and socialise with them to help cheer them up. So by the end of the visit the residents are all genuinely smiling and looking forward to the next visit. Because we are not staff at the home, I think it can be easier for us volunteers to cheer the residents up sometimes, especially with all the games and activities we involve them in.

Why did you want to be project leader for Open Door?

Harley: I wanted to be a Project Leader for Open Door because it is a really rewarding project that benefits both the residents and the volunteers. I really enjoyed volunteering for Open Door in my second year and I wanted to help improve the project further and give the residents more of a variety of opportunities; I also wanted to encourage more students to become involved with such a unique group of people.

Madeleine: I enjoyed volunteering for Action in my first year and with MenCap before, and I knew that Open Door was a less popular project in comparison to other Action projects. So I wanted to help change that by being project leader and encouraging a lot more students to get involved with the project, as well as helping to decrease the stigma around people with learning disabilities. 

What has been the best moment you have had while volunteering for Open Door?

Harley: One of the best moments I’ve had at Open Door is when I was doing a puzzle with one of the older residents at the home who absolutely adores her teddy bears. We had been talking to the bears for a while and I encouraged one of the bears to help us pack the puzzle away once we had completed it. Because the ‘bear’ was a bit clumsy and kept accidentally dropping the puzzle pieces, the resident could not stop smiling and giggling, so much so that she ended up with tears of laughter! It’s so enjoyable to knowing that such a simple activity that we might otherwise overlook can bring so much joy to someone’s day!

Madeleine: I have really enjoyed our build-up to Christmas! At the moment we are making Christmas decorations with all the residents, ready for next week when we completely decorate the home and put the Christmas tree up, ready for when all the volunteers have been invited to the home for a special ‘turning on of the lights ceremony’. It’s lovely to see how excitable the residents are and how much they are looking forward to our Christmas activities!

Be sure to check back next week for Label’s fourth installment of Keeping Up With Action; also to see what other Equality and Diversity projects Action has been getting up to lately check out the rest of the Keeping Up With Action series.


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