Getting to volunteer out in the fresh air is very good for his health

Steven Thornton

Steven Thornton first came to the Volunteer Centre Health & Wellbeing Team in 2009, having newly arrived in Edinburgh from Cupar and Dunkeld where he had attended college and before that a school for people with additional support needs. He had always enjoyed gardening, had experience of volunteering at Falkland Palace Gardens and a SVQ2 in Horticultural Studies under his belt. He was now looking for further experience to help him secure paid work and he also wanted to make friends in Edinburgh. He has accessed several opportunities in a variety of placements and roles and has since completed 1600 hours of voluntary work. He has recently been put forward for an award to acknowledge the inspiring contribution he has made and the remarkable enthusiasm and commitment with which he has undertaken his duties.

Now a volunteer gardener at Edinburgh Zoo, Steven’s mum, Laura explains “He has never missed a single day and is never late. He is out in all weather doing tough physical work.” “It’s good fun but hard work” adds Steven. I have to get two buses across the city”. Particular highlights have included meeting people of different nationalities, helping to build a rose garden and, once, going into the panda enclosure. “I was a bit scared but I went there, I was raking grass and chopping up bamboo for the panda. That was fun”. “Being out in the fresh air is very good for his health” says Laura, “having fun, working hard and learning. He has met lots of new friends, learnt to use public transport, gained valuable experience and confidence. He now has a purpose to his day and is happy. As a mother that is great to see.” “I like to help people because they helped me a lot too. And I love being part of a team” Steven adds.

But the journey to this point has not always been easy. “There have been periods when he didn’t have anything and it was awful to see him sitting at home all day, saying things like ‘I will never get a job mum’. Steven’s ultimate aim is to find paid gardening work. But there’s always something you can do and in the meantime Steven wants to continue with his voluntary work.”

Steven now has an employment support worker who is helping him update his CV. The range and diversity of his experience is impressive. He has also volunteered at The Royal Botanics, The Royal Edinburgh Hospital community garden, Edinburgh Cyrenians and the Action Group where, Steven explains, “I help disabled kids”. In this particular role Steven helps in the play scheme, organising games and taking children on outings to the cinema and zoo. “Sometimes there are children who need one to one attention”, says Laura. Steven adds “I looked after a deaf boy who was about six.” “Steven had to learn how to communicate with him. He came home and said it was very rewarding.”

He has been drumming in a band of young people and performed in front of hundreds of people in the Museum.  As a result he plans to become a young curator at the Royal Museum. Since volunteering Steven has grown as an individual and his outlook and horizon have broadened.” Would he himself recommend it to others? Steven is unequivocal: “Yes, very much so!”