My first time volunteering for Yellow Submarine was a real eye opener for me. The warmth and open heartedness of the “holidayers” is something that I hadn't come across very often before. There was also a lot of good natured and inclusive laughter throughout the holiday. My trip started when I got into the Yellow Submarine minibus which had already picked up everyone else in London and was about to set off for Wales. What struck me immediately was how welcoming the group was, both the staff and the holidayers. As a child I was quite introverted and even today, when confronted by groups of strangers, my natural tendency is to remain quiet in the hope of passing largely unnoticed. Added to that on this occasion I felt slight anxiety caused by wondering how to behave and what to say to the holidayers - something I think everyone will feel to some extent the first time they volunteer with people with learning difficulties. Those feelings began fading away when we stopped for lunch on the M4. That's when I had my first opportunity to have a few longer chats with individual members of the group. Their characters varied quite a bit as you'd expect but they also had things in common, most notably perhaps a love of making jokes and a gentle and sincere friendliness that I can't help thinking is quite rare in adult life. Also, there was a deep love of football felt and expressed by almost everyone. By the time we arrived in Wales and had sat down for dinner I was really enjoying being accepted as part of the group, especially since I was being showered with polite remarks about that evening's barbecue which I had been cluelessly in charge of.
The holiday continued in much the same way. Although it was a lot of fun there was also a serious work component involved too; after all volunteers aren't there on holiday, unlike the holidayers. Tasks included preparing meals, always being vigilant and safety conscious, especially in public places, and generally checking in with everyone to make sure they're having a nice time. Moments did crop up from time to time when I wouldn't understand what a hoidayer was trying to tell me and I think I learnt that in that kind of situation it is best not to pretend that you understand, which can be tempting at first, since that never gets you very far. There were other moments when individual members of the group might get frustrated or upset by a situation but at these times the Yellow Submarine staff were very effective at finding a way to the remedy the situation, a skill that comes with experience I imagine. For me it was an uplifting experience to be around people who are so clearly and uninhibitedly enjoying themselves and I found that that enjoyment quickly became infectious. In the games room there were some epic table tennis matches and pool games which became the source of much laughter. One morning we went down an old Welsh mine; the horrible conditions of the mine workers certainly captured the imagination of some of the group. Another day we rented electric boats on a canal and had to negotiate several complicated locks (as well as manage some fairly chaotic steering). On the final evening we went to watch a musical in Newport, an experience which everyone enjoyed immensely, in particular meeting the stars of the show after the performance.
I think I would recommend volunteering with Yellow Submarine to everyone, no matter what age, background, or previous experience (or lack of experience) of working with people with learning difficulties they have. Yellow Submarine staff members were always on hand and happy to help or take over in any situations for which I felt underprepared which made me feel that there was an excellent support network in place and that I would never be asked to do too much or anything that I felt uncomfortable with. I value my volunteering experience with Yellow Submarine and look forward to doing it again in the future.