When I talk to people about Include, I always say how much it has made a huge, positive impact in my life and improved my quality of life, given me a purpose and that it is the BEST charity I have ever come across where EVERYONE is included, everyone is welcome.
I want the world to know that there is no place anywhere that makes you feel so included, safe, comfortable, happy and purposeful as Include does.
How it started
I first found out about Include by research. I moved back down to Surrey from Coventry, and wanted to find out if there were any Makaton groups nearby and that’s how I came across Include. I messaged Alix and it all went from there.
I wanted to get involved because I was very lonely and I enjoy Makaton so much, and use it a lot personally.
At first, I was very anxious, only because I always am when facing new places, people and situations BUT this didn’t last long! Soon I was comfortable and felt ‘included’ and part of an amazing community and surrounded by lovely, genuine people.
When I first went to Include, I started off just joining in the choir every Wednesday evening in Redhill.
Growing in confidence
It wasn’t long before I wanted to volunteer, make a difference and help others.
I also started to attend some of the Stroll and Sign walks on Saturdays, going to performances, and helping to design the new ‘Star of the month’ certificate and another certificate.
I am also now part of the Champions Group which I really enjoy and feel we all make a difference by working on and designing Easy Reads for people and giving examples and explaining things like ‘reasonable adjustments’ etc.
Since being part of Include, I have gained confidence, made friends and have something to really look forward to each week; helping others, having fun, being included and having a purpose.
Signs of Change
Although I already knew most Makaton signs before I came across include, I have gained more skills from The Include Choir and the Champions Group. These include improved speaking and listening skills, trusting people because I feel comfortable with the people I’m surrounded by and learnt a couple more skills on my computer.
The things I do with Include really help me day to day and help my support workers, family and others around me to understand and communicate with me, and others in a better or different ways.
When I struggle, I can become non-verbal, so for support workers and family to know basic Makaton signs is very important and helpful. I am now able to feel confident to teach them the important basic signs that are useful so that they can best support me.
I think it is important for people in all sorts of jobs to know basic Makaton e.g. hospital staff, doctors, teachers in schools, dentists and other professionals that might come across people who may use a different form of communication like Makaton.
We are all different…
My favourite quote is ‘we are all different, but all equal’ and I feel everyone at Include is treated equally no matter what their needs are and this makes me very proud to be a part of such an amazing group.
The next step in my Include story is to do volunteering more and make more of a difference, help people more, improve more skills and gain more confidence.
I have a goal and that is to do a solo Makaton song at Christmas, I hope I can get enough confidence in time.
Discovering Include is the BEST thing that’s happened and I am very grateful for all that everyone does to make it such a lovely, enjoyable group.
Communications and Partnerships Manager
It is Volunteers’ Week 1 – 7 June and we’re delighted to share a blog from our fabulous Volunteer Kim who joined us this year…
Thank you Kim for all you do for Include. You’re kind, hard working, brilliant at thinking on your feet and you make people feel included.
“My name is Kim, I’m turning 40 this year and I’m a single mum to 3 wonderful kids aged 17, 11 and 7.
Many years ago, I saw a sing and sign choir on the TV, and I found it so exciting and inspiring that I decided one day, when the time was right, I was going to be involved in something similar.
Then just a few months ago I came across Include.org on Facebook and decided to see if I could be involved somehow. My two main passions are music and inclusivity so Include was perfect for me.
My first impression when I came along to choir was that everyone was so welcoming and friendly and were all so happy to be there. It was incredibly well organised with a professional set up.
There is a role for everyone at Include, from refreshments, tech support, meet and greeting, one to one support, to setting up, handing out props and instruments, tidying up or just generally joining in and having fun. You can learn so many roles and skills.
The thing that has surprised me most about Include is that it is so much more than a choir. They put on social events, quiz nights, Stroll and Sign (wellbeing walks) and much more.
Not only that but they are true advocates for inclusivity and change. Attending NHS conferences and talking in public about making reasonable adjustments for adults with communication difficulties. They really inspire me to help bring that change!
When I tell people about the work I do with Include, it makes me feel excited to share the amazing work they do and I’m proud to be a part of it.
I love talking with the members and sharing experiences – I’m happy to say they have become my friends.
My favourite experience so far was with a member who was incredibly shy and nervous of me when we met on my first day. They didn’t want to talk or sign with me at all. But slowly over a few weeks they got to know me more and one evening came over to me on their own to say hello! My perseverance had paid off and they were now comfortable with me. Since then, we chat at every choir and have fun. I’m so happy to have made that connection.
One massive perk of volunteering with Include is the amount of Makaton you pick up along the way.
Learning signs of the week and joining in with choir, using the pictures of the signs on the projector to join in the songs. I’ve even used the Makaton signs that I’ve learned outside of Include, for example helping a lady order a coffee in McDonalds. The server was struggling to understand her speech and Makaton, but I recognised the sign for coffee and was able to help.
I love the fact that Include offers Makaton training and qualifications to their volunteers free of charge, as a thank you for everything. This means everyone can be a huge part of inclusive communication at Include and beyond.
My favourite song to see the members perform is ‘Let’s go fly a kite!’
The joy you can feel in the room when everyone is on their feet, swaying along, signing and singing at the top of their lungs, kite props flying above their heads, huge smiles on everyone’s faces. It really is wonderful to experience; they raise the roof!”
We asked Hannah to share some more of her thoughts:
Why did you decide to create the Black Lives Matter (BLM) Easy Read Resource?
“George Floyd’s brutal murder last year led to this huge international conversation being had about race relations. As a result, lots of information and resources were shared in the mainstream media and online about the variety of ways people can get involved and engaged with the movement for racial equality. However…
…I had noticed this information was not being conveyed in an accessible format and with the assumption that everyone has pre-existing knowledge on the origins of the BLM movement.
Therefore, in line with our principles as inclusive communicators, we wanted to create a resource breaking down key concepts related to the BLM movement which everybody could understand.”
Why should people with communication needs have access to information about the Black Lives Matter movement and Black history in general?
“There are many parallels in the daily experiences of the Black community and people with communication disabilities.
These two groups face significant prejudice in today’s society, which has led to both groups facing similar educational, employment and mental health outcomes. We also know that a significant number of people are disabled and from the Black community.
For example, “In the year to March 2020, almost 4,200 people per 100,000 in the population of England used secondary mental health, learning disabilities and autism services and out of all 16 ethnic groups (excluding groups labelled ‘Other’), Black Caribbean people were most likely to use the services”.
It is important that people with communication needs can become more informed about their rights and the rights of others, and share their own experiences and insights.
They are part of the community and part of belonging is having ways to unite and engage with topics like Black Lives Matter.
By providing access to alternative formats like easy read and audio information, we can empower people to be part of the BLM movement and work towards reversing these current outcomes.”
How we can improve and promote Diversity and Inclusion at Include.org?
“It is important that we listen to existing BAME members and give them the space and time to talk about their experiences of existing within the intersection of being a person of colour with a communication disability.
In addition, I think that it is important that when it comes to engaging in conversation with people of colour, Include.org does not assume that everybody shares a similar experience.
Listening to individual experiences is key. This is the same standard that is applied in terms of people with communication needs – don’t assume someone’s abilities – take the time to get to know them.
Overall, all Include.org members regardless of race and disability should be encouraged to be aware of the Equality Act 2010 which protects everyone and was designed to empower those most vulnerable and marginalised in society.”
How do you integrate with a new community and learn a new language when the world is in lockdown?
2020 was a strange and very hard year for many people living during the height of the global pandemic. Our very talented graphic design volunteer Christian was trying to settle in a new country at the same time.
We asked him about his experiences…
Before the pandemic took hold – I had moved to the UK from my country – that was January 2020.
At first it felt a bit strange to adapt to a different culture, a different language and I felt a little bit out of place at the beginning.
“A friend mentioned that volunteering would be a great way for me to start integrating with society, and I want to do something that makes a positive impact in people’s lives.
I saw other positions advertised, for example, there was one asking for a designer to design books like editorial things, but I wanted to do something that made a positive impact, felt fulfilling for me and allowed me to communicate with other people – not just be working in isolation behind a screen. And I think I found that by joining Include.”
“I think Include played a key role for people with communication needs in the height of Covid19, making them feel more connected, even though we weren’t allowed to be face to face.
I was also feeling isolated, so having the opportunity to have Zoom meetings and be working on something meaningful made me feel like I was getting my sense of belonging to a place – and that’s what I was looking for.
Before then I had barely spoken English.
I understood the grammar, the sentences and the structure because of my work in graphic design – all of the software is in English. And I enjoyed watching English-speaking TV shows with Graham Norton, for example. But I never had the chance to actually speak English until I moved and started volunteering.
I got to do so many meetings and things like that, I think it really helped a lot in developing my confidence with my speaking abilities.”
At Include we’re always using different tools to enhance communication experiences for people.
Sometimes that can be using Makaton signing and visual objects of reference, but we also use technology and apps like Pictello and ProloQuo2Go to ensure everyone can get their message across.
During our chat for this blog Christian told us something we had never realised.
“I’m going to be honest, at the beginning when I joined Include, I used to copy emails I received and put them into a translate tool to check what it means in Spanish. Then I used to write my emails, first in the translator, and then put them in English, and then correct them because the tool is not 100%. And that’s how I leaned to adapt. Now I don’t need to do this, but it was important at that time.”
A new perspective
“Include has taught me how to be more respectful and mindful of other people’s needs that are different to mine. And always to be aware that even though people have different needs, at the end of the day, we’re all the same. We want to be understood, we want to communicate, we need and want to connect with other people. I think even though life presents many barriers, they can be overcome if you keep those things in mind.
From the perspective of graphic design, I feel like I’m more aware now and try to make designs more accessible for everybody.
“Whenever I talk to people about Include, I tell them that it feels like a big family, like a big community. I got to join a few sessions with the choir members and other volunteers a few times. And I felt like I was welcomed with open arms by everyone, even though I wasn’t like a regular, they were very friendly to me.
People from Include have made me smile many times. But I think the one closest to my heart is when you sang and signed Happy Birthday to me – it was really nice.”
chocolate and biscuits
There are some things about any society that you can only really learn about through social interaction. No text book or software will truly explain. Christian credits Include with teaching him about the important issues of chocolate and biscuits – or is it cake?!
There was a whole round in the Include virtual Christmas Quiz about chocolate! He says; “That was something new for me because I never thought that chocolate was such a serious subject – I enjoy it too of course! I know now that cups of tea and chocolate biscuits are also culturally significant. My favourite is the Yorkshire black tea with a little bit of soya milk.”
Then Christian dropped a bit of a bombshell!
He revealed that his favourite biscuit is…wait for it… Jaffa Cakes!
So, we had to have a chat about whether Jaffa Cakes are actually biscuits or cakes!?
Quite a contentious area as tax is charged on chocolate covered biscuits, but not on chocolate covered cakes. A Judge ruled in McVities favour during a legal case in 1991 – declaring that Jaffa Cakes are actually cakes!
I like to think his experience with Include has helped Christian maintain his open mind. Because he does concede; “Hmm it’s because of the texture, the consistency of the base I guess it’s like a bread or… (errr… is cake the word you are looking for Christian – ha!) yeah yeah, I can see that!”
Volunteering as a pathway to paid work
“Include has helped me to adjust to a different culture, working with British people, the way you work is a little bit different to where I used work. Include welcomed me with open arms and showed me how things work here. It gave me the confidence that I was able to produce high quality work that was also making a positive impact.
Include’s CEO Alix, is one of my professional references on my CV, so that is really helpful and means a lot to me because Alix is awesome. She’s so kind, patient and hard working. You know, it’s a lot of work running a charity and she’s a mom, too. It’s amazing how she does it.” And the admiration runs both ways.
Alix says; “Christian has been an absolute blessing to the organisation, from the moment he joined us. He brings a level of professionalism to everything that he does and right from the start (even when language was a challenge, which he hid so well) he came up with fresh and inventive ideas to help us really build a brand image for Include which we have never had the resources to do before.
Without him, I don’t believe we would have had the successful fundraising campaign we had with last year’s Big Give Challenge – or won their Small Charity Award. Christian, and other amazing volunteers like him, really do make a difference to people’s lives.”
Next big challenge
Christian has just started a new job. He says; “In the interview, I was asked to present any work I had done in the UK. And I presented about Include. I talked about The Big Give Christmas Challenge 2020, where we had a fundraising goal, and through our campaign we managed to double the money raised to £10,000. That was a highlight during my interview.”
Christian has kindly offered to stay involved with Include. We could not be more delighted! He has high hopes for Include…
“I’m hoping the choir can start to do some more public performances – it’s difficult because of the pandemic but gradually going back will reinforce the sense of belonging and being together. Travelling together and going to do a performance at a different place – those things make people feel more included in wider society, I think.
And although I have less time to volunteer, I’m going to try to help Include to raise even more money in The Big Give Christmas Challenge 2021. This year Include needs to raise £20,000 to expand their inclusive communication services to more people in more areas.”
We’d love to perform and deliver training up north again one day Christian – and you will be number 1 on our guest list. Thank you for all you do for us.
Communications and Partnerships Manager
What does it take to be recognised as The Mayor’s Young Volunteer of the year?
Please meet one of our most generous, energetic and versatile volunteers…
Sofia first got in touch with Include aged 13, to ask if she could do her Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) Award volunteering section with the charity.
For some young people, volunteering as part of DofE may a bit of a “tick the box” exercise to get the award. But not for Sofia.
She says, “I wanted to work with people. All my friends were going, ‘I just want to get this bit over with so I’ll just go to the public library for a few weeks and quietly help out there.’ But I didn’t want to go to the library! (I thought) ‘I don’t think I can cope with that! So, I’ll find something else that will be more fun’.”
What she didn’t have in experience she made up for in enthusiasm, empathy, humour and versatility. Include’s volunteering experience is a great fit for Sofia.
“Include is for everyone that wants to learn and wants to have fun and meet new people that they wouldn’t necessarily meet.”
Sofia’s talents and willingness to learn new things – mean she has helped Include in a wide variety of ways. She famously understates her contribution as “I just do a little bit of everything!” But really, she is an essential part of the charity – keeping important things like AV technology running smoothly during rehearsals, helping people to feel welcome and calm, and creating accessible Easy Read resources.
This last year has uncovered even more of what Sofia has to offer. She helps Include to rise to the challenges of Covid19 – adapting to new platforms like Zoom, piloting a covid-safe roadshow and doing more than ever on our social media channels to help raise awareness of what we do to break down barriers for people with communication needs.
Follow the Include Instagram account that Sofia manages here
When asked how volunteering for Include has benefitted her, she says, “I got to do so many things that I wouldn’t have. I’ve been responsible for things and I’ve learnt how to be responsible for other people and, you know, build trust with others. Obviously being the youngest, you don’t know if people are going to trust you that much. But I’ve been trusted with big things. And taken them forward and have kind of shown that I can do it.
“So yeah, it’s fantastic to have a charity that have just gone, ‘Yep, Sofia can do this. She’s our girl.'”
A few years down the line, working with people with additional needs is something Sofia is embracing in her working life too. She landed a teaching assistant role in a local school, working with a young boy who has autism. Being able to help calm and distract him are skills she has used in choir rehearsals. She remembers one rehearsal: “A member of The Include Choir was having a hard time because there were lots of upcoming event date announcements and then it was break time, when people go to get a cup of tea and chat. I noticed that he got a bit stressed. I took him to the side and was like, ‘Do you want me to get you your biscuit and a drink?’ And I told him, ‘I’ll get the dates printed out for you.’”
Sofia also works behind the counter in Boots and her Include experience has been helpful there too. As an Include volunteer she has learnt Makaton signing to support people with a range of communication needs, and this has given her the confidence to also learn some British Sign Language.
“I see a lot of deaf customers in Boots. My colleague was struggling to help a deaf couple once, and was just shouting. So, I went over and I signed, “Do you want to buy with cash or card?” and ”Can I take my mask down so you can lip read?” Now if deaf people come to Boots, they seem to navigate in my direction!”
“I try to do my bit in the community to make everyone feel included and I just love seeing people who join Include connect. It’s like a big family. Seeing the support workers get involved as well as the members, when everyone is joining in, is fantastic!”
“I remember watching two Include Choir members with different levels of communication adapting to each other. He was signing to her using Makaton signs that he just learned from a song – really trying hard to sign and talk to her. She is limited verbally and does use a lot of Makaton. He had an idea – and went to get an iPad with a supported communication app on it – and then those two were having like a conversation on the iPad and it was so sweet. And it’s in moments like those that all our team’s hard work is so very worth it.”
Everyone at Include is proud of our girl Sofia for the wonderful achievement of receiving this award and for all the creativity, energy and warmth she brings to everything she does.
See Sofia and find out more about volunteering with Include here
Communications and Partnerships Manager
It’s Student Volunteering Week! About a third of all of Include’s volunteers are student volunteers, so we’d like to take this opportunity to send a massive THANK YOU their way! They help us every day to spread the message of Inclusive Communication. Three of our volunteers have kindly take time to share their experience of volunteering:
Name:Sarea, English Undergraduate
Time with Include: 3 months
Role: Newsletter Co-Editor
Sarea has quickly become invaluable in helping us to create our weekly accessible newsletter – keeping our members connected and helping everyone to tell their story
“Whilst Volunteering at Include, I have learnt a lot about communication difficulties and how ‘no one size fits all’. Thus, it is essential to consider a lot of factors when writing, for example the formatting I use and ensuring I am consistent with headlines. I have started to think more inclusively during my volunteering experience by following the important values and missions that Include promotes, like making the world better at including people with speech difficulties.
Volunteering at Include has meant that I’ve learnt a lot about sign language and how communication can take place in various ways so everyone can take part and actively engage. My favourite part of volunteering at Include has been taking part in the tea breaks where I get to meet all the lovely faces that are part of include and hear about how much they enjoy taking part in all the events Include has to offer.”
Name:Jennifer, Speech & Language Therapy Postgraduate
Time with Include: 7 months
Role: Session Facilitator & representative for CardMedic
Jennifer uses her speech and language therapy skills to help us in a range of ways. The Include Choir are impressed with her cake baking skills too!
“Include has given me a chance to really put my knowledge in Speech and
Language Therapy into practice to support individuals living with learning disabilities. I help facilitate members’ socials and am also part of a project to develop an accessible app to improve communication in hospital settings with CardMedic. These are very rewarding as I can see that my work has a positive impact on people’s daily life in many different contexts.
Volunteering with Include has inspired me to think more creatively when working with learning disabilities. I love to hear all our members’ fun stories during our tea breaks, and it’s truly a delight to be part of this community!”
Name:Jasmine, A Level Student
Time with Include: 2 years
Role: Graphics Creation
Jasmine has been with us since the days when we could sing in one room together! She has adapted brilliantly to the virtual working environment.
“I have had the loveliest experience with the Include Choir. I have learnt so much about communication difficulties, about the supportive and caring community that Include provides for people with communication difficulties and their families, and most of all, about the amazing lengths Include goes to make everyone – choir members and volunteers alike – feel included.
I really wanted to volunteer with Include because I want to be a psychologist when I grow up; I am intrigued by the way music can help people express themselves, particularly when they have communication difficulties. I love to design posters and flyers and, with Include’s teaching and guidance, I’ve learnt how to make them user-friendly for the choir members.
One of my favourite parts about having volunteered with Include has been learning Makaton. Not only did this allow me to help sign during online singing sessions, but it was just really fun! The staff and volunteers have been so welcoming and kind, and I am proud to have worked alongside them to make those with communication difficulties feel understood and included.”
Hear from more volunteers about their experiences
Find out more about our current volunteering roles here