“It’s rewarding beyond your imagination” – Johnathan’s volunteering story

After the world of corporate work took its toll on his physical and mental health, Johnathan started volunteering at the Seahorse Centre in 2017. He found it so refreshing and beneficial that two years later he’s started working for us!

Johnathan started his career working in catering, and then moved into the world of corporate communications. He enjoyed his job, but didn’t realise the effect it was having on his wellbeing:

“I really loved it, but I soon got swept up into the corporate rat race, the complex corporate agenda, challenges, successes and achievements leading to more work, more hours, more travel, more time away from home.

Late in 2016 it all came crashing down around me, without warning – well to me, although those close to me saw it coming. It happened so quickly: feeling unwell while out shopping one Sunday, we came home and I took to my bed. The next day I felt no better, soon I found myself being whisked off in an ambulance with a suspected heart attack. It turns out it wasn’t this but my body telling me enough was enough.

I took some time off to recover but it was clear that my mental health was anything but healthy, it had been all too much and within a matter of weeks I found myself in the full throes of depression – life became a huge challenge, everything from the simplest of daily tasks that are often taken for granted. Lots of support, medication and therapy followed.”

After being off full-time work for almost 12 months, Johnathan started volunteering at Poppins, a local coffee morning for people with learning disabilities held at St Andrew’s Church in Minehead. Through this he was introduced to the idea of volunteering at Discovery’s Seahorse Resource Centre:

“I have to say I was very nervous to start with, mostly because I didn’t have any work experience with adults with learning disabilities, so I was very self-conscious about how to approach or talk to them. I now realise how stupid this sounds, if only I had given it some thought sooner. All I had to be was me, and treat them as individuals, all with different likes and dislikes.

I soon got into the swing of things, supporting the team on walks, arts and crafts, entertainment and cooking. I think this is where I let some of my earlier career skills shine through, in the kitchen, somewhere I feel most happy and confident. It’s strange how life takes you back to where you started.

Time flew by and I gave every possible bit of free time to the Centre, even taking up learning Makaton in my own time to help with my communication.

The highlight of my volunteering was the Royal Wedding of 2018. Poppins and The Seahorse Centre were both thinking about what to do and I approached Emma and Tess (the manager of Poppins) to suggest holding a joint wedding party, where we’d all dress up, watch the wedding and then put on a lavish wedding breakfast. This became the plan. Everyone got very excited. Naturally I took charge of menu event planning and catering.

We put on a great event, reception drinks and canapés, gathered in ‘the Great Hall’ to watch the wedding and then had a lavish afternoon tea, all homemade (of course), cakes, scones, sandwiches, fizzy fruit drinks, bunting and balloons. It was as if we were actually at the wedding. It was a great day, much fun was had with everyone, it was tiring but great fun.”

Photo of Royal Wedding Party
Seahorse and Poppin’s Royal Wedding Party

Johnathan’s mental health began to improve with the help of therapy and volunteering, and in 2019 he mentioned to Emma that if she were ever looking for relief workers then he’d be very keen to apply. As luck would have it the Centre was in the process of recruiting, and, after being accepted for an interview, Johnathan was offered the post:

“Before Seahorses and Discovery I had a huge misunderstanding about learning disabilities, I suppose I was more sympathetic to those with it and volunteering of any kind almost seemed to be a charitable act. Seahorses and Discovery has brought me to see that sympathy is not needed or desired and you as an individual will get as much from volunteering as those you support. Everyone has a right to be treated as an individual, with their own needs; everyone has a right to be part of their community as much or as little as they want, no matter what personal, physical or mental challenges we or others may face. What is required is equality, inclusion, understanding, support and most of all friendship.”

When he isn’t working, Johnathan lives with his husband Piotr in West Somerset with their gang of Welsh Pembroke Corgis. They have eight at present and run a dog-grooming business as well as providing home-boarding and daycare for well-behaved dogs.

“Volunteering with Discovery has been a life changer for me, personally and professionally – an experience I would recommend to anyone, regardless of your life story, no matter how old you are or what your background is – it’s rewarding beyond your imagination.”

We wish Johnathan, Piotr and their canine pals all the best for the future!