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Bryan McMaster shares his volunteering story

Bryan McMaster, age 33, has been blind since birth. He lives in Lisburn, Northern Ireland. Bryan started volunteering with RNIB last year, supporting the Facebook Connect group for Northern Ireland. He previously volunteered for The Cedar Foundation, after having struggled to get employment.

Supporting RNIB Connect NI Facebook group

“I help to manage the RNIB Facebook Connect group for Northern Ireland. It’s an online role - posting online and in-person events. The page has been running for a good few years, and I’ve definitely seen it grow. There’s now more people requesting to join and interacting with the page - close to one thousand members and when I joined the group it was just over 500. Members find the group a great way to interact with other blind and partially sighted people. I mainly handle posting events; there’s a lot of walking groups, arts and crafts and social groups, and also a few tennis clubs in East Belfast.

Managing a busy role

I’d say that it was the Covid-19 lockdown that motivated me to start volunteering with RNIB. I needed something to do. It’s a lot more time consuming than I thought it would ever be. There’s a lot of events going on across Northern Ireland that I promote, there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to get everything listed.

Connecting with other people

These kinds of community forums are massively important, because, especially in times like lockdown, you can feel very lonely. I live in a rural area and I’m sure there are lots of people out there like me, who just need something to do. RNIB Connect NI is a real outlet to start. It’s great to know you’ve got that connection there, with people who are in the same boat as you.

Discovering volunteering

Throughout my education, I was very well supported - my hand was held through everything, but I think that has hindered me over the years. I went to Jordanstown Secondary School, which is a school for visually impaired and deaf students. I actually left school without my Maths and English GCSE. After leaving school, I tried a few further education courses. I have an NVQ in Business Management and have done a few placements.

I went for a few job interviews, but didn’t unfortunately manage to secure a job. For a few years, I didn’t do very much. Then I got involved with The Cedar Foundation as a service user and started my role with them as a volunteer. So after continuing with that for a few years, here I am with RNIB.

Benefits of volunteering

The best part about volunteering is that you’re not under any pressure. It’s just what you feel you can do on the day. It doesn’t have to be your nine to five - a couple of hours here, a couple of hours there. It’s good, you call the shots.

A few years ago, before I started volunteering, I would be sitting doing nothing, and you can get into a negative mindset. I think the whole thing has made me a bit more sociable. I also join in some of the events, joining a few walks and just whatever event I can attend.

Recently we did a walk down in Bangor. A big crowd of us met at the Bangor train station, there was about 30 of us in the end from different parts of Northern Ireland. So we walked around and then went for something to eat, it was great.

Volunteering as an alternative to employment

I think a lot of employers need to be more aware of sight loss and any disability in general. I would say that if someone is finding it hard to navigate the working world, to try getting into volunteering – it just helps to get out there, get your mind working and be active.”