“Making a difference to just one person is so important!” Ken Carson shares his volunteering story
Ken has made a difference to so many as he has supported, encouraged and connected people with sight loss through his volunteer work. Read more below and find out why he has maintained his enthusiasm for RNIB.
Ken Carson, who lives in Bangor, Northern Ireland, joined RNIB as a volunteer after getting support from different services as he made his own sight loss journey. Ken has, been involved in many volunteering and fundraising projects including facilitating Connect groups, running an audiobook club, walking and bowling groups, campaigning, fundraising and much more.
Why did you decide to volunteer for RNIB?
Two things were behind it: firstly, when things got really bad with my sight loss, RNIB got involved from the beginning, stepped in with the then Finding Your Feet project - which was a three days residential course. We learned about all these different services - and organisations stepped in - and those three days changed everything for me. The future was dark, bleak and unknown before that - and then after that I realised there is so much I can do and so much I can get involved in. And it changed my idea of how my future with sight loss would look. With that, and different help from RNIB, I wanted to give something back. I was struggling in my job and reducing my hours so I had more time to give and wanted to use that extra time to give back. A year after that I gave up work and I had more time. And that was even better so I could get involved in various services.
I would give talks in various group settings to other people - I really enjoy and being involved with Connect. The change in me in three days was amazing, and I wanted to help people in similar situations experience that as that was such a big step for me. My giving back is also mutual - RNIB helped me and I want to help others going through what I was going through. I want to benefit others and that will benefit me in turn as it helps to give back.
Tell us more about your volunteering…
I have a Connect role in RNIB and directly working with that team, a lot of the role ties in with referrals. It is nice for someone to speak to someone else at start of their journey to give them confidence. I facilitate lots of groups to get people out of the house; part of my role is promoting and encouraging people to get involved with those groups. There have been some real success stories of people who never wanted to leave the house and now they are involved in a lot of groups in areas - something they never thought they would do.
I also get involved with promoting activities in my local area, bringing people with similar interests together. We now do a lot of stuff, walking groups, bowling, campaigning, audio book groups and we are very social and pretty relaxed too.
We have made friendships and now also do a lot of things separate from RNIB. For example we take trips on the train to different locations for days out, going for walks and having lunch.
Another example of a group I facilitate - separate to RNIB - is an audiobook book club in Bangor. We have a common interest - it is fantastic and amazing service that is provided and they get together and meet once a month to pass on recommendations; we go to a local restaurant where we are well known and supported and it is handy for transport. There are around 25 members in this independent group. When it started, we only discussed two authors and now we have to keep a list of more authors as there about 25 on it, through recommendations. It is very informal and no pressure on anyone to speak and what it has really developed into is a real social event. The feedback is everyone are loving the fact they are meeting people coming from all over. As a result, I have also got involved in fundraising to get more money raised for audiobooks; we have guest speakers’ talks from RNIB and other organisations to give their input.
How have you found the role experience?
There is always so much going on and it is really good; now people get involved in more than one [group] and it has improved people’s confidence to do more. It helps me and gives me a lift to see people being involved and enjoying the groups. Before COVID, I really enjoyed doing talks to raise awareness and promote fundraising; I went to places like Belfast Castle and the Titanic, went on RNIB Connect radio and like people to get to know my story and share this.
Can you tell us what your favourite moments in your volunteering role have been so far?
Everything has been a highlight, I love it all, the campaign group is getting busy again and I enjoy that. I have a lot of people come to me because of being involved in so many groups and I can encourage them.
More highlights include being involved in the Fundraising Iceland trek, a few years ago; it was sensational. I did this just to give back to RNIB. I then set up a fundraising project for RNIB called PK Blinders –this was with a friend of mine who is also a volunteer for RNIB. We had worked together and, when she retired, she joined as a volunteer and was involved with the groups and guiding too. So we wanted to raise money for two audiobooks to be produced. We have done a bag pack in a busy supermarket, facilitated a quiz, we have done awareness talks too. This is currently ongoing and we are half way to our target to producing two books.
Has being a volunteer had an impact on your confidence?
It gives me benefits too, to see other people developing their confidence and doing things it boasts me and makes me feel like I am doing something useful. It has been such a benefit to me after I stopped working too. There is a lot of background work in it, I do lots of organisation and administration and helping others - in turn - really helps me at difficult times too.
What has been the most valuable part of your volunteering experience?
So many turned out to the book club and for lunch recently - and just seeing the laughter there that day was amazing. And to see someone go from not being able to leave house to being involved in so many groups too is just fantastic. Sometimes my role is just to give that confidence and to make a difference to just one person is so important.
For many it is about taking that first step to join a group and it isn’t easy and my role is to break the ice initially they know me that’s helps them get introduced. And my role is done because confidence can be built from there.
What would you say to people who are considering getting involved in volunteering at RNIB?
I thoroughly recommend it, to be giving something back, helping other people and it gives you that bit of a lift to feel involved in things. And there’s nothing to stop you from giving it ago and seeing how you feel. I didn’t know how I would feel when I started. I went and done it and never looked back.