Volunteering stars come out at the Mencap award ceremony

Mary Bayliss with the award winners Vivienne Johnson

There were stars before your eyes at a recent Mencap award ceremony. Although there wasn’t an actor in sight, all the clapping and cheering made it feel like the Oscars as the real stars of Mencap – the volunteers – were honoured in an award ceremony on July 10.

The charity’s patron, The Lord-Lieutenant of Berkshire, The Hon Mary Bayliss JP presented the awards to the dedicated army of people who make sure Mencap runs smoothly and helps as many people as possible.

The honours included Long Service Awards, Best Newcomer, Outstanding Contribution and the highest accolade; The Wendy Allen Volunteer of the Year Award, which this year went to Sally Brown.

Sally, along with her husband Peter, also won Long Service Awards for the work they both do in helping to run the charity’sfortnightly drop in sessions at the Hexagon. “People get help filling in forms,” said Sally. “They can call in and ask for advice, have a cup of tea or coffee and just chat to people.”

Mohammed Mohammed, 20, was voted the Best New Volunteer 2014 for his work with the Saturday Club. “Saturday club is for children from four to 11 years,” explained Mohammed. “I assist the leader, play with the kids, sing songs, prepare the room and set up then clear up after we have finished. ”

Mohammed first got involved with Mencap because his sister has Downs Syndrome. He saw how hard his mum was working to look after the home and family and he wanted to find a way to help her. His search to help his family led him to Mencap and he was inspired to join in and help others.

Nina Sethi won the Pioneering Award for Volunteers for her work in the Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities in Reading. “I have been working in this field for nearly 18 years so I’m familiar with some of the pitfalls that the families can face.” she explained.

Nina’s work includes reaching people who wouldn’t normally access services or wouldn’t be aware of all that is on offer. “Before the start of all this work they would be isolated in their homes, suffering silently.” she said. “The care and support groups [at Mencap] are very important as it is sometimes difficult for them to access the mainstream because of cultural issues or language problems.

“Sometimes families say such wonderful things. ‘I feel so much better when I see you, when I talk to you.’ Just to have someone who is listening sympathetically can make a difference.”

If you or a member of your family has learning difficulties and you need help or just a listening ear or, if you would like to help at one of Mencap’s many clubs or drop in sessions they would love to hear from you.

Mencap are based at 21 Alexandra Road, Reading, RG1 5PE. Phone: 0118 966 2518

Pictures: Vivienne Johnson