My name is Ashleigh, I live in Edinburgh and I love being involved in organisations which focus on promoting disability inclusion and equality in all areas of life. I graduated from Queen Margaret University in 2016, and moved into a flat in Edinburgh. I originally contacted IntoWork which was a good starting point to be introduced to some organisations such as Lothian Centre for Inclusive Living. At one of the peer support groups, I heard someone talk about Volunteer Edinburgh, and it sounded like it would be something that I would find very interesting. I went along to find out how I could get involved. I spoke to one of the advisors about my interests and we had a really positive discussion about things I could be involved in. I explained about my passions around inclusion and self-directed support, and together we created a profile of my skills and experiences and sent it out in the Volunteer Edinburgh newsletter. I waited a few weeks and then started to get emails. I got around 7 emails and from that I met with different organisations to see how I could help.
I got involved mainly in two organisations where I regularly volunteered. The first organisation was a charity which supported families with children with disabilities. I started by helping out in the office, some media tasks and speaking at events. I was able to share my experiences with other families, and try to support them in any way I can. I really enjoyed this and I was then approached by the project advisor to see if I was interested in becoming a trustee of an organisation. This was a huge step for me as I had never been on a board before. I learned so much about team working and making decisions in the best interest of the charity. I experienced both celebration and conflict during this time. The board was mostly made up of parents of children with disabilities, and together we supported families to have the best opportunities for their children. I learned so much about the responsibilities of being on a board, and how to contribute to an important committee. During this time, I was asked to take part in the partners in policy making course ran by Incontrol Scotland, which taught me a lot about self-directed support, and I was also asked to get more involved, and to become a trustee for them. It is thanks to Volunteer Edinburgh, that I had the confidence to step up to the role of a trustee of these organisations.
The other main organisation I got involved in, I was asked to carry out some research about self-directed support. I spent time in the office researching self-directed support, with the intention of setting up a steering group. This didn’t work out as it was originally planned, however I learned a lot about self-directed support and again was able to contribute to groups which had an important impact in my life. I only stayed there a few months, but I learned a lot about Edinburgh services and the way things are run. I now sit on one of the reference groups for the disability strategy, and I believe that it is through volunteering that I made connections, and have these experiences.
Volunteering is a great starting point to try and enhance your career opportunities. I used to have a lazy attitude to volunteering, but I learned that if you build connections with people and get involved in things, you can go far in your career. Everyone needs to start somewhere.