I have been incredibly fortunate in my life.
I grew up part of a stable family who have loved and supported every decision (even the ridiculous ones!) i have ever made. I have never really struggled for money, and have always had shelter, warmth, food and people who loved me.
And I am fully aware that for millions of people around the globe, this would be their dream, and I am so very lucky to have been brought up in that environment, and although my life is not perfect and I am still unsure on so many things, I am far more comfortable than most, and am thankful for being where I am.
However, this comes with its own problem. And this isn’t me moaning about the life I have or being ungrateful, this is just me explaining.
Until my second year of university, I had never really met anyone much different to myself. I had surrounded myself with my friends from school, who all came from a similar background to me, and I hadn’t really been part of many clubs or groups outside of school especially in my teenage years. But, in my second year of university, I was put on a placement at THE COMPANY OF FRIENDS which is a drama group and social club for adults with a range of special needs and complex learning difficulties in Liverpool. Safe to say I was absolutely petrified. I had no idea what to do, how to act, speak, move, and I was so scared that I would say the wrong thing. This is what i will come on to…
I remember walking up the steps to the group on my first session and I have never felt more uncomfortable. I felt like a tiny tiny goldfish in the muddle of the Arctic Ocean, flapping around helplessly, probably whilst plastering a totally fake “I’ve got this” smile on my face.
Well, that placement was the best thing that ever happened to me and I will forever be grateful to the lecturers that places me there, and Company of Friends for being so wonderfully magical. And that is absolutely what they are. I have never in my life met a group of people who uplift me and make me see my glass half full than those group of guys. Their wicked senses of humour and ability to take the absolute piss out of themselves was totally infectious and make me feel at ease almost instantly. They allowed me to become part of their dysfunctional family, and 2 years later, I am still there. I don’t work there. I have done projects there and hopefully will do projects again, and there will be weeks and months that will go by without me going in, but when i do, they greet me with absolute open arms, call me Cher Lloyd (god knows why!) and its as if I have never been away. But they ignited a passion in me to work in this sector.
It is something that I am really good at. And not a lot of people are. And you know what? It is totally okay for me to say that without coming across arrogant or self centred, because I’m not good at a lot, but I am really good at that. However, one barrier that I have struggled with is an attitude, and that attitude is, “what right do you have” or “who do you think you are, you have no idea what it is like.”
Now the second part of that is absolutely true, I do have absolutely no idea what it is like growing up with Downs Syndrome, and I would never ever pretend to. I make no attempt at framing myself as having had to deal with any of these issues that these people have had to battle their entire lives, but I want to be a voice with them. Not for them, they do enough speaking for the rest of the world combined, but with them.
Too often we criticise people for speaking out on behalf, or with others, if they have not come from that background or group. And i ask why?!
Why can’t a heterosexual person be part of a campaign for gay rights?
Why can’t a white person fight for the equal rights of black people?
Why can’t an able-bodied person fight for the rights of disabled people?
We shouldn’t make anyone feel guilty or embarrassed for their upbringing or background, especially if they are choosing to spend their lives giving back to the community and helping other people.
I spent my university life having to apologise and justify the fact that I had been privately educated. I totally understand all of the arguments against private education and i also agree that I was incredibly privileged to receive it, but it doesn’t make me a bad person, nor does it take away my right to work with people, and create work with people, who did not receive this education because I “would never understand…” whereas in actual fact, that is exactly what I am trying to do.
So, yes. I was lucky, I am lucky, and I am so grateful for that, but I also have the right to care about people, regardless of their background, race, colour, or ability.
It is impossible to write a blog like this without sounding like a spoilt little rich kid who wants to do a bit of work for charity to make themselves feel better about their privileged life. I am none of these things, but I know that this is how it comes across.
But yeah, I do care, I will care and will continue to care. Company of Friends made me feel part of something bigger, more important, and worth more than any amount of money can buy, and I will forever be grateful that they opened my eyes to a world outside of my own.