I first started volunteering at Brunel’s SS Great Britain as a Visitor Services Assistant back in December 2015. It feels like ages ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday.
My co-volunteers remember me as a white ghost – I was shy and very quiet, due to how nervous I was, but that would all soon change!
I started volunteering to gain experience in a work place environment and to be able to engage with people outside my family and small circle of friends, hoping to overcome my social stress from my Asperger’s.
I hadn’t even thought of my future in terms of work. After volunteering at Brunel’s SS Great Britain for a while it felt like home, which would lead me to apply for a job as a Visitor Experience Assistant.
The biggest challenge for me when I first started volunteering was talking to strangers (our visitors), I was terribly worried about how to approach and engage people. I was also worried about the whole environment as it was such a new thing being a volunteer; I was worried that I could not handle it all.
I applied for a job after 10 months of volunteering. I remember that I was having a coffee with fellow volunteers Mike and Carol. Mike had taught me loads about how to engage and be around visitors, as well as the ships history. After some talking, they convinced me to apply for the Visitor Experience Assistant role in October 2016. I still remember when Liam, one of my mangers, rang me up saying I had got the job – I was over the moon and I will admit there was a tear or two! All of a sudden my life has changed for the better! I had never thought I could achieve this and thought it would be much longer until I reached this point.
The best part? Besides every minute? Well that is hard! I think the best part is being part of such an important bit of history. Being able to share and tell the ships magical stories to our visitors. I love being out on the weather deck chatting to visitors about the ship’s life with its fascinating stories, talking about how passengers travelled and how different the ship looked throughout its working life.
I will admit that I’ve come so far in 5 years from college, but some days my Asperger’s is a little more noticeable than others. Some days I do find it harder to engage people but they are rare occurrences now. Apart from that, I strive to try new things and overcome any difficulties!
The staff at Brunel’s SS Great Britain are all so wonderful and not just to the amazing visitors that come through the doors. We all take such great care and support each other wherever possible. If they know I’m having a bit of an off day, they make sure I’m okay and if I need to take five minutes to chill, I can. Everyone is so understanding to me and I cannot thank them enough!
What do I bring to the team? I bring charm, wisdom, knowledge, care, understanding, support and most of all Ryan Hugs! I’m a team player at heart and will do whatever it takes to keep team spirits high. A happy team means happy visitors.
The best way to help encourage people with ASD into volunteering or working is to reach out and connect with societies like the National Autistic Society, colleges and universities that have a support program for people with ASD. They could try trial shifts or try a work forward course, helping them get into volunteering or employment. If people are interested in the subject at hand they would enjoy being a part of it. The best thing to do is to help share stories of someone with ASD, to help encourage others that the place is supportive and friendly.
Also, if you do have volunteers or workers on site with ASD, make sure you make them feel welcome and supported. Just like what I’m trying to do by writing this blog.
On that note, unless you feel very confident with trying to find work first, start off with volunteering in a subject or area you wish to work in. There is nothing wrong with starting out a volunteer. In fact, I feel like it gives you a clear picture of how things are done.
When you do start working, start doing only few days a week to break the feel in, because you do not want to overwhelm yourself. I started doing three days a week then later upped to four days a week.
I hope from reading this blog, or reading any of my bits on social media, that someone somewhere has been inspired by my actions. Also, hopefully, it will encourage someone with ASD who might be nervous to try out volunteering then hopefully working.
Small steps are better than big ones!
Visitor Experience Assistant, Ryan, has been nominated for this year’s VisitEngland Tourism Superstar award – show your support and #VoteForRyan: MIRROR.CO.UK/TOURISM-SUPERSTAR-2019
You have till 3pm on 2nd April 2019 to vote!